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Her seniors’ exam results were seventh in the country last year, and 35 students have gone on to university.
Quite an achievement considering she provides free education to the poorest children of the poorest nation on Earth (according to the 2007-2008 UN Human Development Index).
Miriam’s friends and family, especially her parents, were proud and supportive, but others are still too afraid to visit.Many others had been orphaned and displaced, witness to horrors that defy belief.Miriam’s educational empire now extends to 1,000 pupils in three secondary schools and one primary.There were some lonely times during those early years, particularly when I discovered my right-hand man was embezzling our money, which was heartbreaking.’By 2002, Miriam’s 20 pupils had become 200, and another school was opened at Rolal, three hours’ drive from Freetown.This was closely followed by another in Magbeni in 2003 and then a primary school in the nearby village of Maronka.It was her brother Swithun who prompted her change of direction.Following a visit to Sierra Leone, he and a friend had started a charity, Educ Aid, in 1994, with the aim of providing Christian-based schooling for war-displaced children.When she arrived, during the country’s fragile truce following nine years of civil war, it was with the sole aim of founding a school for children whose education had been disrupted by the conflict.Many had been child soldiers, kidnapped by rampaging militias, living their childhood in the jungle, decimating villages, mutilating and killing as they went.Unlike her UK students, who look forward to a life expectancy of 80 and an average annual wage of £24,000, here life expectancy is 41, the average annual wage just £77. ‘I don’t know where they find the strength to overcome their horrific experiences.’Combatants were often force-fed drugs (including gunpowder in their food), supposedly to make them ‘better fighters’.Their captors slashed them with knives and put cocaine into the wound before they went into battle. ‘One of our students, Abu, 21, said there was only one day in the whole war that he remembered vividly because he’d run away the night before and missed his drugs dose.