A pre-school unit being built in a remote Kenyan village is to be named in tribute to the tragic young grand-daughter of a former Isle of Man College lecturer.
Mary Stewart, now 70, moved to Kenya in 2007 after retiring from the college. She was in the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi the day before it was attacked by Islamist militants.
Returning to the island for Christmas, Mary was reunited for the first time with three former island students who were involved at the outset with a charity set up in 1991 to improve conditions in the village of Koru, having travelled there with much needed funds and materials.
Since 1991, thanks to fund-raising events and support from the Isle of Man and private donors, life for many in Koru and the neighbouring village of Koguta has been transformed.
A 50-bed hospital was built and opened in 2002, thanks to the Koru Hospital Fund which raised more than £120,000. The charity also paid for the refurbishment of a unit devastated by a fire in 2010, and has funded the upgrading of facilities.
But the work of the fund is now complete as since 2011, the Kenyan government has taken over responsibility for funding.
However, Mary’s charity work continues under an umbrella organisation Kocep (Koguta Community Empowerment Project) formed in 2009.
A single donation from the Isle of Man enabled a college of continuing eduction to be reopened in 2008. It now has more than 100 students. A bore hole has been sunk in Koguta providing potable water for the community, and a village savings and loans initiative has also been established.
Thanks to funding from the Manx Overseas Aid Fund, a pre-school is being built in Koguta. It will be named after Mary’s grand-daughter Freja Stewart Van Hansen, who died of cancer at the age of just eight in June of this year. Freja, who lived in Denmark with her Manx mother Kirstie and dad Torsten, had battled against a brain tumour for four years.
Mary also has plans for a clinic and church, while on the college site in Koru she is co-ordinating funding for an administration block.
These various initiatives have changed the lives of so many – people can now reach a good hospital and be treated, others can afford food to feed themselves and their families, clean water is available and water borne diseases are being reduced. Young people can receive further education and be trained ready to join the work force and women are being empowered to manage their daily needs more easily.
Mary, who also taught at Ballakermeen Junior High School, said: ‘I’ve been doing charity work for so long - something drives me on. It’s always something I wanted to do.’
She said it was quite by chance she got involved with Koru. She had initially planned to go to Ethiopia but then war broke out there with Eritrean separatists and the frontier was closed. The late Reverend Canon Eugene Hopkins, parish priest of St Anthony’s Church, Onchan, had put her in contact with the Mill Hill Fathers who were running a mission in Koru.
Over the years, a series of visits have been made to Koru by volunteers and students from the Isle of Man College.
Before Christmas, Mary was reunited with three former students Jane Craig (now Foster), Reiner Kraft and Andrew Porter who were involved with the Koru Hospital Fund back in 1991. The occasion was an event at the Empress Hotel in Douglas.