Fry up to raise cash for Africa

THE Barr family warmly invite you to attend the ‘Big Fry Up’, a breakfast morning in St Saviours, Dollingstown, on Saturday December 15, from 7.30am to 12noon.

It aims to raise money for running water in Kahara, Africa. The special fundraiser is part of Charlene’s Project which was set up by Charlene Barr in 2009 to give children in Africa access to education.

The Dollingstown teenager’s life was cut short on October 30, 2010 when her condition, Cystic Fibrosis, deteriorated and hopes of a double lung transplant didn’t work out. Charlene’s story lives on as the Barr family continue her good work through fundraising like the ‘Big Fry Up’.

Her father, Richard Barr, said the support for Charlene’s project has been overwhelming:“I’m so proud of everyone who has supported the project along the way,” he said.

“There have been some very generous donations. There are so many children giving too. We had a situation when a girl brought round a wee jam jar with her birthday money in it that she wanted to give to support Charlene’s Project. Time and time again we have come across that children just giving their little bit. It’s all those little bits that count.”

Families in Northern Ireland currently sponsor 100 children in Africa through Charlene’s project. The charity built the new Hidden Treasure School in Maya, Uganda, in June 2011 and hope to build a second school in Kahara later next year.

When Charlene first arrived at the Maya school, in 2008, there were around 60 children being taught in wooden structures. Through the help of Charlene’s project, over 300 children now attend Hidden Treasure. The pupils have electricity, computers and thanks to money raised by Waringstown Primary School, they have new text books. More than 300 pupils currently go to Kahara school but conditions are difficult. One of the classrooms is open under a branch roof and another is a mud structure. Many of the children in this rural community are barefoot.

Charlene’s father believes that it is those children’s stories that captured his daughter’s heart a big way. He said: “Charlene empathised with the children a lot. Part of Charlene’s story was how her life started. She spent her first year in hospital. She came into our home as a foster child and that proceeded on to adoption but I think seeing so many orphans, vulnerable children with probably some similar experience to her but she would say you know if I had Cystic Fibrosis, over here in Uganda, I wouldn’t have lived as long. She saw how hard the children wanted to work and in difficult situations with very little by way of resources. It really impacted her. From she was there in 2008 she clearly saw a bigger picture of need and something that she really wanted to invest what life she had left in.”

Cystic Fibrosis affects around 9,000 people in the UK and affects the lungs and digestive system by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. The condition makes it hard to breathe and to digest food. It’s caused by a faulty gene which controls the movement of salt and water in and out of the cells in the body. Charlene Barr had to withdraw from school in 2008 because her condition took a turn for the worse. However, despite the setback in her own education, she was determined to give children in Africa the opportunity to learn and better themselves.

At first, Charlene’s parents believed her dream was a bit ambitious but supported her through the journey. In the face of severe illness, she managed to reach her first target of £70,000 to build Hidden Treasure. Five months later the charity hit the £120,000 mark and decided to invest it in a new well for the whole community. Despite reaching these targets, Charlene didn’t make it in time to see the school being built.

Her father said there have been a lot of ups and downs in Barr family’s story: “Charlene held on to the hope and it was our prayer that she would get a transplant,” he commented.

“She was somebody who was very ill who was looking outside herself. She deteriorated quite quickly and came home one evening and died. For us the hard thing was she never actually saw the school completed. The very day after she died they broke the land to start building. She died on 30th October 2010. We went out the following summer for the official opening of the school which was very emotional for us. It was that mixture of incredible sadness that Charlene wasn’t there to see it but incredible joy seeing her vision and dream come alive. “

In the face of adversity, Charlene’s life was a living testimony of how one person’s life can make a real difference to so many. She was named the winner of Spirit of Northern Ireland Award last year but her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed across the water. Her father recalls how one woman in Maya, named her child after Charlene. She may have come from a small place in Northern Ireland but her legacy lives on hundreds of miles away in Africa.

Richard said: “They’ll never forget what she has done for them.

“They got us to plant a mango tree and they said it was to be planted as a memory to Charlene. So as it blossoms every year and bursts fruit, it will remind the children of the fruitfulness of Charlene’s life.”