Meet Benson: Street Hero

Benson’s parents died when he was five. His older sisters were left to care for him, but they didn’t….

Young African man from Zambia in blue against a green background

They mistreated him, badly enough for him to take his chances on the street when he was seven years old. He was homeless in Mufulira for three months and then came to Kitwe, where he was also homeless. For a while he stayed with Friends of Street Children, leaving them for an orphanage run by the Catholic Church, from which he ran away. FSC street workers picked him up and lodged him at the FSC Kawama centre.

From the FSC Kawama centre he went daily to primary school, passed the national examinations with flying colours and was accepted by his secondary school, which he completed. This is a considerable achievement for someone who started life as a street child. Benson has always wanted to be a lawyer, so that he could defend street children, but until now he has not had the sponsorship to go to university. Since leaving school he has worked at the FSC Kawama centre, helping out with street children. He understands them and speaks their language. Throughout his life he has shown, resilience, intelligence, determination and courage. For his fellow street children he is a remarkable example.

Thanks to the generosity of Romilly’s supporters, her charity has been able to transfer £300 for Benson’s first term at teacher training college.

If you would like to donate in order to help fund the next term of Benson’s teacher training course you can do so here.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charities/romilly

My thanks to Christopher Mulenga for sending me the photograph of Benson.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Romilly’s One Island Walk for street children. Stobo to Auchinoon: not lost, just not sure where I am.

Reflections of branches and sky in dark waterA path came down from the south crossed our path and continued up hill and north.  I looked at the map. The paths marked on the map didn’t seem to correspond with what I was seeing on the ground.  Hmm. I don’t call this being lost. I just wasn’t sure exactly where I was, which is not the same thing at all. I took a guess at where I thought we were and a bearing, more or less due north, which, in the general scheme of things couldn’t be far wrong. We set off up the path which crossed ours.

We had left Stobo earlier, walked through woods with ponds and lakes to the left, the sun lighting up the trunks of the pines through which we saw the blue water below, and now after the decision at the crossroads we were heading up hill and north. Soon the path petered out. A wave of nagging doubt entered my mind. Should I have taken the other path? This was hard work too, through tussocks of moor grass, and hummocky heather, of which the stiff stalks lay downhill. We were walking against the grain as well as gravity. We climbed the western side of what I thought must be Riding Hill, descended onto a saddle and climbed another hill, which if I was correct in my map work, guess work, was the eastern spur of Ladyurd Hill. From here could see the Southern part of the Lyne Water Valley to the east and felt vindicated. My plan was to cross the Tarth Water, just over a mile to the north and then join the track leading through Scotstoun Bank in the direction of West Linton.

Heather in foreground, grass scar over hillside, sky

We headed down hill but, just over the crest, were blocked by forestry. We followed its eastern edge north and at a corner took a track through it.

‘Chemical warfare.’ muttered my friend.

‘What?’

‘Chemical warfare. Nothing grows under those trees.’ We came out in the fields above Ladyurd, a farm settlement, following the edge of the forest again to the track which led to the farm, and down to the road which we crossed making for Tarth Water. This turned out to be much wider and deeper than it had looked on the map. My companion was all for crossing it but I was not, so we followed it north west to the bridge and then walked up the track to Scotstoun. This was quite a place. ‘You can almost see the money from Edinburgh flowing out into the Borders’, said my companion. We sat down to eat lunch, admiring the view of the house. Someone was shooting at clay pidgeons, intermittent bangs were carried to us over the fields on the wind.

‘What an idiotic occupation!’, said my companion.

‘I rather enjoy clay shooting.’ I said.

‘I was really talking about pheasant shooting…It’s hypocritical of me I know. God knows, I’ve had a lot of fun shooting. But driving huge numbers of birds over people paying huge sums of money to blast away at them…it’s crass and the people paying for it are often ghastly’, he said.

‘I guess it was the new breach loading shot guns and manufactured cartridges at the end of 19th century that made that kind of shooting possible,’ I said, ‘providing, had we chosen to see it,  a warning the of slaughter to come……

………..Who said, “I’ve always regarded the contest between a man with a gun and a rabbit as being dishonourable.”? ‘

The Tarth Water, stream, water, burn, beech branches and buds, green weed
Tarth Water not looking so deep or wide

We went up the main road, turned left onto a farm track which took us through a farmyard. ‘Funnily enough farmyards and golf courses are some of the very few places in Scotland where you cannot walk without permission’, my companion told me,  but no one objected and we continued on the farm road. Here and there were large tin chicken rearing sheds. A pretty young woman with a baby in a pram and a boy following on a bicyle stopped to talk to us. She was warm and friendly with an accent from somewhere in the North of England. We all agreed that it was a lovely day. The way we said it, repeating the phrases to each other was like saying grace. ‘I’m always surprised how the people who talk to you and greet you on a walk turn out to be English’, said my Scottish friend. After a mile and half we came out on a road, which took us into West Linton.

We stopped at the pub and ordered a cup of tea. People were sitting out in the sunshine on the pub’s terrace. I did not know if it was Sunday, a bank holiday or simply because it was sunny, but there was a feeling of celebration and relief, which you don’t get in countries where you can take sunshine for granted and where it is often too hot. West Linton had been my target for the day, but we were well ahead of schedule and I wondered if we could cover some of tomorrows walk to Livingston. If so we must hurry.

Track leads to gap in dark line of trees

We headed east out of West Linton and then took the road north to Baddinsgill. On our left children played among the cars parked beside a gold course. We walked up hill. After a while we came to a large blue container, like a cargo container, with a bright stainless steel pipe extending vertically from it. ‘It’s a biomass heater’, its owner explained, a tall capable looking man. ‘I know it’s a nonsense, heating firewood to dry it out, but we sell a lot of it’.  ‘What a great business’, muttered my companion as we left.Highland Cattle, grazing on heather

We continued up hill following the track of pink stone towards Cauldstane Slap, the saddle from which we would descend to the Harpering Reservoir and the A70, our second target for the day.A track of pink sand and rock through heather to a walker on the skyline

It was a gentle uphill walk and although I know that my companion was tired, and probably would have preferred to call it a day at West Linton, he never complained. The route is known as The Thieves Road from long ago, but from time to time we passed notices asking the public to report the theft of sheep to the police. The track ended and a path at times uncertain found its way to the Slap between two hills and here we could see the reservoir, a wind turbine and cars moving as if on sliders, on what must have been the A70, through the otherwise slow moving landscape. We walked downhill to the road.  It had been a good day and I must have done a good chunk of tomorrow’s walk.

I am walking a long way to raise money to help homeless children. If you have not already done so please donate. http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Romilly’s One Island Walk: Tibby Shiels to Stobo

View of Loch St Mary through leafless trees

I set off up the road from Tibby Shiels with Loch St Mary on my right. The sun bounced off the water. The cold, metallic light darkened the outline of the trees. There were no leaves to be seen. It could have been February rather than May.

After a mile or so I took the path which follows the Megget Water up to the dam. I was walking across moorland, at times the path was no more than a soggy, black carpet of peat. To my right were fields of grass enclosed in stone walls. A few sheep grazed. I heard the cry of curlews. Gradually the path neared the river and at the same time the road from the dam on the other side drew closer to the river too.

Rather than walk two sides of a triangle to cross at the dam I decided to cross just beyond a small island. It looked as if I might be able to step from stone to stone. I stepped out onto a stone and then, following the momentum already flowing, jumped to a large rock. I landed on its side, clung on, and with some difficulty scrambled up onto it. The stream was wider and the stones further apart than I had thought. I sat on top of the rock taking off boots and socks and rolling up my trousers.  The flow of water was vigorous. Its rush and noise hid the sounds of bird and sheep, enclosing me, drawing me down to the river’s world. It looked deeper and faster than I had thought. I stepped cautiously into the water. It was freezing. The stones were rounded and slippery. I hoped for my camera’s sake that I would not fall in, but gosh, it was cold. My feet and ankles felt as if they were being squeezed fiercely by something so cold that it burnt. I would have liked to have moved faster but the darkness of the water and the uncertainty of the stones slowed me down. I clambered out and sat in the sun drying myself and enjoying the tingling sensation in my legs.

I walked up the road and joined my friends at the dam. We set off west and then took a path where there was a public footpath sign. The path was marked on the map but straight away forked in a way that was not. The map path ran up hill parallel to the stream in the valley below, but did not seem to be as consequent as the diverging path which seemed to beckon and corresponded better with the authority of the footpath sign. We stuck with the smaller path and headed up hill past a plantation, keeping the stream or burn below us on our left. We were on the western edge of the map and would soon move on the eastern edge of the next map and had to look from one to another.

It did not seem quite right and at times I was not sure which valley I was in. I took a bearing from where I hoped that we were to the head of the Manor Valley.  The path disappeared and we found ourselves walking uphill through rough tussocky heather. It was hard work.  The burn below swung off to the west. It should have been a sign. I checked my compass and we continued. We went north west down hill to a gate in a fence which we went through and then sensing the empty space behind the rise in front of us walked to its top and found ourselves on a cliff of moorland grass falling steeply to the valley floor with the valley laid out before us. Bingo! It is a happy moment when one’s faith in the wobbly needle of the compass is fulfilled: a kind of magic, a trick played on oneself.

Looking North down the Manor valley, smooth hills and valley sides with occasional plantations, rough moorland grass in the foreground
Looking north from the head of the Manor Valley

We walked down the hill, traversing and re traversing its steep sides and then headed north down the valley.  High up on the valley side where the sky met the hill we could see the silhouette of a man on a quad moving jerkily.

sheep skull with moss

The path became a track. At the edge of a wood we stood back to let a farmer, his boy and dogs herd ewes and lambs up the valley. One of the lambs was left behind by its mother, who was cut out and driven back by the dog while the farmer scooped up the lamb letting it hang by its front legs from his meaty hand.  We walked through the farm yard and down the track. A young woman was hanging out washing. There were few trees and little garden but daffodils had been planted by the track.

Twisted Beech tree

We walked past a low hill to our left. On the map it was labeled in gothic print, ‘MacBeth’s Castle’. Later I emailed a friend called MacBeth, who lives in Glasgow, who replied saying that there were a lot of ‘MacBeth’s Castles’ but sadly none of them belonged to her.

Gate at Dead Wife's Grave with view of hills beyond

Just after that we took a wide path between stone walls which passed between fields to the left and forestry to the right. At the top  we entered a wood and continuing up hill came to a gate at the edge of the wood with a view of the next valley. The place is called Dead Wife’s Grave, a name which belies the beauty of the place and the tenderness of this simple memorial to someone loved.

Soon we could see Stobo.  We walked down cheerfully. We heard a clattering, panting and turned to see a young man, his arms held out hopefully like featherless wings, run past in an ecstasy of kinetic energy.

Beech tree trunk behind stone wall or dyke covered in lichen, sheep and meadow in background

At Dawyck Mill we crossed over the River Tweed. It had been a good day.

I am walking a long way to raise money to help homeless children. If you have not already done so, please donate at

http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Gretna to the Bhuddist Monastery

sign on gate by railway track reading 'come back safely your family need you'I was setting out on Romilly’s One Island Walk, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I expected this part to be tough.

The day before I had traveled up from Exeter by train. I had lost my over sixty discount card. Rather to my disappointment none of the ticket inspectors asked me for it. My B and B was immaculate. If you ever need to stay in Gretna this is the place. It’s near the station and only a short walk from the famous forge where, presumably, you would be  getting married.

‘Marriage is real industry here, isn’t it?’

‘There’s not much else to do. We used to have the MOD and the nuclear nearby but they’re running down’.

After a delicious breakfast I had asked to borrow a pair of scissors to trim excess weight off my maps.  I ripped out the part of my book, which I had already read. My landlady looked shocked.  I did not do this to upset her: on the wall I had seen the the prize she had won for literature as a child, but ‘Tom Jones’ is quite a chunk to carry.

‘ You should get a Kindle. People used to leave books behind but now they’re all on the kindle’,  she said.

The wind was cold but spring was in the air. It was sunny and the lambs frisked in the fields,  like animated, tea towel sized fragments of the fluffy clouds above. The keen air was full of energy and hope. I felt happy.

After about an hour I came to a farmer feeding his sheep.  ‘We live in a peaceful place. When you wake up you’ve got to look forward to the day, haven’t you? People think we make money but it all goes back into land. You’re just keeping it for your children. I don’t know why dairy’s crashed but it has.’ He did not seem unduly worried though: a nice man. Car, man with white sack, sheepI followed his directions, walking through his farmyard, past that of his neighbour, through past more farm buildings, and crossed a stream. Stone wall with metal attachments In a wood I saw a strange concrete building, its roof covered in moss and grass, from which small saplings grew. Track, trees, blue sky Behind a barn I jumped down into a field.  Rather pleased with this athleticism, I walked down into a valley, crossed another stream and walked up hill to an abandoned stedding.  Here I had lunch in the sunshine,  with my back to the wall,  eating the tin of mackerel I had bought the night before. ruined buildings, large puddle grey skies A mile or so on and the track led through another farm yard. There was a small family in the road, a cow, a very young calf and a bull. The bull stepped forward and squared up to me. I walked back to a gate and round the farm, down to another stream which I jumped across and then back onto a track.  Decrepit machinery, was rusting in the fields. The house looked uninhabited. Someone had recently cut down an ash tree. The bright new wood shone, but elsewhere buildings and machinery showed years of neglect.Meat hanging in barn I crossed the B7088. My plan was to walk the five miles across the hills to join the road leading up to Eskdalemur. I followed a track due north towards the moor. At the last cottage I knocked on the door. No one seem to be around and I was just about to leave to see if I can find an outside tap when the door was opened by a woman on crutches.  She asked me in. We went into the kitchen and she ran the tap.

She asked me what I was doing.

‘….Not over the hills?…tonight? in this weather?….’

‘Yes, you don’t think it’s going to rain?’ I asked

‘Sure to.’ She had just had a hip operation ‘My brother’s helping me….. Dave, di ye hear that? Man’s walking to Inverness’.

Dave came in and lowered himself into her arthritis chair. ‘Nooer? And Samye Ling ternight? O’er hills?. Ternight? In this weather ?’  I looked out of the window. The sun was shining.

‘Does your wife like walking?’ , asked the woman. ‘ Umm, not like I do’. ‘ Well, they say a change is as good as a rest.’ She looked at me slyly.

I thanked them both. They were kind and good humoured. We had had a laugh. Outside it started to pour with lumps of frozen water. I walked up hill.  It was very cold. Luckily the rain stopped but I sheltered in a dip to put on more clothes. Dead fox by stone wall It was dark by the time I reached the monastery. I had been walking for 14 hours and had traveled about 23 miles. rain in distance above moorlandI am walking a long way to raise money to help home less children.  Please donate.

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com

photography © James Forshall  

Street Children Grow their Own – Still a few tickets for FASCINATING AIDA’s concert 3rd December, London

Christopher Mulenga of FOSC sent me this picture of one of the boys picking onions at the Kawama shelter for street children, run by Friends of Street Children in Kitwe, Zambia.  The children there aim to make themselves self sufficient in vegetables.

Harvesting onions in the garden at FOSC's home shelter for street children Kawama
Harvesting onions in the garden at FOSC’s home shelter for street children Kawama

Help FOSC help homeless children.  Come to FASCINATING AIDA’s CONCERT for Romilly, at the 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, London W11, this Monday 3rd December.                        

There are a few tickets left and you can buy them at the door. Check availability with Tim or Lizzie at 0208 994 8544  Mobile 077 892 51837All Proceeds towards the care of homeless children in Zambia and Kenya.  Romilly pays no European salaries