A Chief, a Doctor, and a Journalist
As many readers will know, Peter Penfold is a very valued patron of the Dorothy Springer Trust. He was a member of the British Diplomatic Service for thirty-eight years where he served in various 'hotspots' around the world, especially in Africa and the Caribbean, witnessing several coups, insurrections, civil wars, kidnappings and hurricanes, and oversaw several evacuations of the British and international communities.
He served as the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone during a critical period in its turbulent history. He was a key figure in all that went on. Dealing directly with the government and the rebels and witnessing the terrible atrocities heaped upon the Sierra Leone people. Before his retirement in 2002, he was made a Paramount Chief and a Freeman of the city of Freetown by the people of Sierra Leone. He has been back to visit the country many times since then, and is still considered a hero by the Sierra Leone people.
He was back in the country a couple of months ago, and this time he was accompanied by the freelance journalist, Jenny Taylor. Following is an article written by Jenny that appeared in the St Helen's Church (Abingdon) Magazine. (St. Helen's is the church that Peter attends and they are supporters of The Dorothy Springer Trust)
"Abs is an immense man. Except for his legs, which dangle uselessly from his huge frame, supported by crutches, he has the physique of a giant. Abs contracted polio at the same time as his father died, when he was five. He was spotted by a famous test pilot for Concorde in a Freetown Leonard Cheshire Home, dragging his body around determinedly with little arms, or making tiny wire cars. He was sent to England for education, and emerged with a PhD in engineering, all funded anonymously by the mother of the woman who lodged him for all those years. He did not know his benefactor was her mother until after she had died: Dorothy Springer is the name of the trust he came back to Sierra Leone to found. He’d been helped for a reason, he realized, and now rises at 4 a.m. most mornings to plan and write as he campaigns for the disabled against a government that feels threatened by the changes he wants to see. I watched this valiant man, still on crutches, haul himself up twenty steep steps just using shoulder power. We’d gone for drinks with the Mayor of Freetown at his Parlour after a special morning service of Thanksgiving at Africa’s very first Baptist church. Nowhere has disabled access. Streets are clotted manically with traffic. There are no ramps, no made-up side roads even, and indeed no one very much in charge of anything. The huge impressive-looking mayor, his chain of office twinkling, offers us his hospitality: large duty-free bottles of Glenlivet.
Abs is just one of the great souls I have met here, introduced to me by the former High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, with whom I’m travelling. Peter himself is a hero, a ‘komrabai’ or paramount chief who stood by the Sierra Leone government against international protocols, during the 1991-2001 civil war and thus helped to save the nation’s democracy. Peter is lionised everywhere by the older generation, and some of the new. I am travelling with a celebrity. From the moment we step off the plane, the adventure with Peter starts. He has the authority of the chief of Sierra Leone, and in this country the traditional forms of authority hold firm, for better or worse. In Peter’s case it’s for the better, for he uses his authority, and his vast knowledge of African manners, to nudge reforms and hope and self-esteem. Please pray for Sierra Leone. God is here but so is the darkness that could not and will not extinguish the light of his love: a remote spot that has meant much to Britain. Like Peter, we can honour its potential and keep hope alive."
Peter is "flying out" to Sierra leone on 28th February to be on hand for the general election which is taking place on the 7th March. Please pray that all will remain calm and peaceful.