Volunteers return amid crises

4th January 2008 at 00:00
While other British aid workers are escaping Pakistan, primary teacher Gina Menon plans to cross the border today so she can return to work in the country.

Ms Menon, 56, has taken a two-year sabbatical from her job as deputy head of Raynham Primary in east London, to train young women in the Punjab as teachers.

She is a volunteer with the international development organisation, VSO, which has two teachers and 20 other volunteers in Pakistan.

VSO has British volunteers in both Pakistan and Kenya, which have been rocked with election- related violence while the rest of the world has celebrated the festive season.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is warning against all but essential travel to both countries, amid continuing violence. British citizens are advised to remain indoors, within their lodgings.

But Ms Menon plans to walk back across the border into Pakistan today. She has been in India, spending Christmas with her husband's family.

She will catch a train to Rawalpindi, where the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto sparked the country's crisis, before driving to her rural workplace near the village of Basali.

"I'm aware that it doesn't look good on the news," she said. "I would think there will be tension, especially in certain parts of the country. Once I get to Basali it will be a case of keeping my head down."

Jennifer Marsden, 61, a maths teacher from Cheshire, is working with VSO and Unicef developing child-friendly schools in Lahore. She has been forced to delay her return from holiday in India because of Ms Bhutto's assassination.

At VSO in London, Richard Hawkes, the international programme's director, said the safety of volunteers was of the utmost importance.

Evacuation plans were in place should the situations deteriorate further, he said.

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