Dollingstown girl’s vision for a school in Africa has been inspirational

Attending the  Charlene's Project Festive Fry were(from left): Gary Kennedy MBE, former principal of Waringstown Primary School, Dr Richard Barr, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA and Dave Barr.
Attending the Charlene's Project Festive Fry were(from left): Gary Kennedy MBE, former principal of Waringstown Primary School, Dr Richard Barr, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA and Dave Barr.

The Big Festive Fry in aid of Charlene’s Project has been another huge success with 800 people served and around £18,000 raised.

Now in its fourth year the fry up has become a highlight in the calendar at Dollingstown and further afield.

Charlene’s project was set up by the late Charlene Barr, who died while awaiting a lung transplant. Before her death the Dollingstown teenager launched a fundraising effort to a build a school in Uganda, now operating at the Hidden Treasures School.

Charlene was born with Cystic Fibrosis, she was very ill in her first year of life and spent all of that time in the hospital. At times it did not look like she would survive. Just after her first birthday social services began to look for a temporary foster placement to allow her out of hospital for the first time. Around this time, the Barr family were just entering the world of fostering children for respite care.

She was introduced to Janice and Dickie as their second foster child, and they were asked would they give her a home to allow her out of hospital. Short term fostering became long term fostering became adoption.

The condition of Cystic Fibrosis affects 8,500 people in the UK and affects the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food. Every week two young people die as a direct result of having the condition. On October 30, 2010, in her own home surrounded by her family - 20 year old Charlene Barr became one of them.

The story of her birth and death says nothing for the inspirational and memorable life Charlene lived in between, a determined and dedicated person she never let her condition hold her back - always taking every opportunity to spend quality time with her ever increasing family (there were only four when she became a Barr, there ended up being eight with countless friends added on top over the years).

Here was a young girl who lived a hard life with the utmost level of dignity, never allowing anyone outside her immediate family to see her struggles, always focussing on the positives. This in itself is an amazing example to us all - however as she wrote in her diary in July 2003, she was developing a passion for Africa.

Come Christmas 2007 Dickie and Janice presented the family with their gifts, each one getting an envelope with the promise written inside of an Easter visit in 2008 to the place Charlene was fast developing a passion for... Uganda.

It was this trip which transformed Charlene’s focus on life. What she saw and experienced affected her and made her increasingly determined to make a difference.

When Charlene had to drop out of school due to failing health she made the decision that she would raise money to build a school in Uganda so that children there would get a chance of an education.

She launched ‘Charlene’s Project’ in September 2009 and never gave up on her dream of building Hidden Treasure Primary School for children in Maya, Kampala, Uganda.

Charlene set off on her fundraising efforts - first £70,000 was targeted for the building of a school, then after it was raised in five months, she increased her target to £120,000

Not only was a school built to accommodate 250 children, but a well constructed for the whole village and teacher accommodation provided for the school.

The project continues to raise money and gather followers and supporters. The work in Uganda has not suddenly stopped - indeed the school has risen from the ground with exceptional speed and craftsmanship.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson praised the ‘army of volunteers’ who helped serve upwards of 800 people at St Saviour’s in Dollingstown on Saturday morning.

Mrs Dobson said: “Few people make a difference like Charlene Barr and her family and friends who honour her memory and keep her legacy alive, helping children in Uganda, deserve our respect and prayers.”

DUP MP David Simpson said, “This was an excellent event and it was an honour to attend. 800 people were well fed with a Big Festive Fry and a total of £18,000 raised for the well known and loved charity Charlene’s Project.

“Saturday morning certainly was a busy morning in Dollingstown with hundreds of people turning out to support such a worthy cause.

“It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of people from the Upper Bann Constituency and at this time of the year when families come under extreme pressure it is wonderful t think that they are prepared to give that little bit extra to those who really are in need.

“Charlene Barr has left an amazing legacy.”