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Peeblesshire and the surrounding areas

Friday April 6, 2007
Helping deaf in Africa
By Jamie Halpin

Ruth McAree.jpgBLOOD Diamonds, the film starring Leonardo di Caprio, put the West African country of Sierra Leone on the map with its depiction of the brutal civil war there.

The film shown earlier this year dealt with the trade in illegally-mined gemstones that helped fund the 11-year conflict that ended in 2002.

But when the cameras stopped rolling and the Holywood circus left to return to the opulence of L.A., the legacy of a war that left 50,000 dead remained for the people of Sierra Leone.

In fact there are some who feel that the film might have done more harm than good for the poverty-stricken country.

One person who has certainly been a force for good for the deaf children in Sierra Leone is Peebles teacher Ruth McAree.

Ruth has just returned to Scotland after a third spell in the African country training teachers how to deal with deaf children at St Joseph’s School in the Bomboli region. She said: “Up until the end of the civil war the school was occupied by rebel forces coming from Liberia to attack the diamond mines.

“Until recently, deaf children were taken into the forest and left, but the school provides a haven for 200 children from three up to 18 years.

A lasting feature of the war was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands of their victims.

An ecumenical church service was organised by the Peebles Council of Churches in February that helped raise £481 for a free field audiometer that tests the hearing of young babies.

The service was at a packed St Andrew’s Leckie Church and there were video link-ups to St Peter’s Church and the Eastgate Theatre. The theme was deafness and the healing of deaf people by Jesus.

Ruth, now retired, taught deaf children for 21 years, based in schools in Glasgow and Yorkshire. She will return to Sierra Leone in October.

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