General’s new post at African charity

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The former British soldier who played a decisive role in ending the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone is to become honorary patron of a UK charity that supports blind and partially sighted children in the war-torn West African country.

General Lord Richards of Herstmonceax said he was delighted to accept the role at the UK Association for Schools for the Blind in Sierra Leone.

The retired Chief of the Defence Staff said: “My association with Sierra Leone dates back to 1999 while serving as an officer in Her Majesty’s forces.

“I was closely involved in the ultimately successful efforts to bring an end to the awful rebel war in the country.

“During that time I developed a keen interest in the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Freetown, visiting and getting to know the school well.

“I also remember fondly the visits by the school’s choir in 2003 and 2007.

“I am well aware of the work of this wonderful charity and I look forward to supporting and assisting its efforts to help the blind in Sierra Leone.”

Lord Richards was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for leadership and “moral courage” following his mission in Sierra Leone.

As head of the operation to evacuate British nationals, he persuaded then Prime Minister Tony Blair to allow him to run a bigger intervention.

This allowed forces to lead the defence of Freetown against invading rebels from the Revolutionary United Front.

Lord Richards has retained his affection for the country.

He chose a song by the Milton Margai choir, entitled My West African Home, during his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs last month.

The UK Association was launched in 2003 to support the Milton Margai School for the Blind.

The registered charity’s co-founders include the retired diplomat Peter Penfold CMG, who was British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone from 1997-2000, and the late British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who spent time at the school and helped organise the UK choir fundraising tours.

The choir, whose motto is “We cannot see, but we will conquer”, performed in Hull during the 2007 tour to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

The money raised from the tours helped to pay for building projects and the day-to-day running of the school.

The UK Association has broadened its remit to support other blind schools in Sierra Leone, including establishments in Bo, Makeni, Kenema, Kabala and Kono.

Mr Penfold, honorary president of the UK Association, said: “We are obviously delighted that Lord Richards has accepted this position.

“We look forward to working with him in the future in our efforts to help the blind in Sierra Leone.”

The war devastated Sierra Leone and its infrastructure, but since peace was restored in 2002 the former British colony has made slow progress towards realising its potential.

However it still remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Troops from the British 
Army, together with administrators and politicians, remain in 
Sierra Leone to this day tasked with helping train the armed forces, improve the infrastructure of the country and 
administer financial and material aid.

Mr Blair is regarded as a hero by the people of Sierra Leone, many of whom are keen for more British involvement.