Darkness over Africa as two bright lights go out

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Dick and Enid Eyeington were my aunt and uncle and I loved them more than words can begin to describe. Their murders in Somaliland last week are a personal tragedy for my family and their many friends, colleagues and former students, and are a terrible blow to education in Africa.

Dick and Enid worked for more than 30 years in Africa - in Tanzania, Swaziland and Somaliland. They spent many years in Swaziland, where Dick was a geography teacher and later headteacher, and Enid was nurse and community activities co-ordinator at Waterford-Kamhlaba school.

Waterford-Kamhlaba was set up just across the border from South Africa during the worst years of apartheid and their involvement with the school led them to actively support the anti-apartheid movement. Their dedication to the school and the cause of multi-racial education is beyond doubt and their work inspired thousands of people.

In 1995 I worked with them at Waterford-Kamhlaba and their enthusiasm for education and life inspired me to become a teacher. It was here, too, that I saw the potential education has for defeating poverty, raising aspirations, sharing experience and bringing people together.

They moved to Somaliland recently to set up a school in a country ravaged by civil war. They saw it as a great opportunity to help some of the most deprived children on the planet and had the full support of family and friends who were not surprised that they should embark on such an ambitious endeavour while entering their 60s.

By all accounts they received a great welcome and were working tirelessly to build one of the first schools in Somaliland.

When last I saw them, in August, they were encouraged by their successes and keen to expand the school. They were popular and well-liked.

They felt secure in Somaliland, accepted by the people and the government, and their deaths were a huge shock. They spent their lives improving education in Africa and their hearts would break if they thought their deaths might jeopardise that cause. I know they would not wish their deaths to be a reason for British teachers not to teach in third-world countries.

For all of us who knew them this tragedy is immense. For the children of Somaliland their deaths are a disastrous blow. They will be mourned widely and deeply and the world seems a darker place without their presence. But their deaths stand as testament to the power of education to change things and worry those who would seek to keep poverty, injustice and war as they are.

Josh Eyeington is head of history and religious studies, Coquet high school, Morpeth, Northumberland

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