19 October, 2009
After the success of the first Bursaries Fund Reception in 2008 and by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, we were delighted to be invited back to Westminster Abbey again by The Reverend Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky, the Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, in order to honour this year’s successful Bursaries Fund candidates.
Attending the special presentation evening were various supporters, trustees, patrons, staff and volunteers, and seven of the ten former prisoners of conscience who had been granted a bursary in 2009.
Canon Sagovsky opened the evening by warmly welcoming everyone to Westminster Abbey and said how pleased he was to be able to host the event for the second year running. Sir Henry Brooke, the Chair of the PoC trustees then paid tribute to the immense contribution of the four patrons who had passed away in 2009; Cecil Evans, Guy Stringer, Tom Blumenau and Ludovic Kennedy, and hoped that we could all carry on their valuable work. He then introduced Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, herself a former trustee of PoC and now a patron. She spoke of how humbled she has been again by the stories of the grant recipients and how we can all learn a lot about what bravery really means from them.
Three of the successful bursary candidates then kindly agreed to speak about their experiences and the effect that being able to continue their studies has had on their lives. First was Daniel Bekele, a respected human rights lawyer from Ethiopia who was imprisoned for two years after being accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Daniel spoke of his gratitude to organisations such as Amnesty who campaigned tirelessly for his release and then went on to explain that when he was eventually granted his freedom and made his way to the UK, he had a whole new set of challenges to deal with. Rebuilding his life and his career was no easy task and after much searching finally he came across PoC, and was overjoyed that an organisation existed that could support him to complete the doctorate study he had always wanted to do. Daniel is currently studying a PhD in Law at the University of Oxford. Daniel was also recently honoured with a Human Rights Watch award for his courageous work.
Next, our guests heard the harrowing story of Sarah Hassan from Sudan who bravely recounted the suffering she endured at the hands of the Sudanese government. After her husband was arrested she was placed under armed guard at her home and beaten in front of her children. She was pregnant at the time and after being forced to stand for 12 hours with no food or water she suffered oedema in her legs. Eventually she gave birth prematurely and was forced to have a caesarean with no anaesthetic. She was subsequently arrested, detained and beaten on several occasions. Eventually she managed to escape from Sudan with her family and studied for her MA. Now with the help of a grant from PoC she is studying for her PhD in Human Nutrition and with this knowledge she hopes to return to Sudan to help malnourished children. Sarah explained how being able to further her studies in the UK has given her a renewed sense of freedom and independence and whole new level of confidence as she can finally progress professionally and support her family and community.
Finally Joab Omondi, an environmental scientist and teacher from Kenya who fled to the UK after suffering severe torture and persecution for his environmental activism, expressed his pleasure in being able to meet some of the people who have enabled him to continue his studies. PoC provided a bursary grant so he could complete his post-graduate certificate in education and then go on to teach in the UK. He is now head of his geography department and he explained how happy his is to be able to educate and inspire his students here and how immensely proud he is that several of them have gone on to study geography and environmental management at university.
The three speakers along with four other bursary recipients were then presented with their certificates by The Reverend Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky. Lynn Carter the Director of PoC then expressed her sincere thanks to everyone for attending and for supporting the bursaries programme and then as a special treat, Canon Sagovsky took the guests on a private tour of the Abbey.