Local man Professor Allan Hobson, 73, from Formby has been invested with an MBE by the Queen for his humanitarian work in Rwanda and follow-on work in Liverpool.
Recently he attended Buckingham Palace with wife Marion and daughter Melanie to be presented with his award for 12 years working to help Rwanda’s Shyira district out of poverty, with help from parishioners of St Lukes Church, Formby where he is a lay preacher.
Allan was head of Liverpool John Moores University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering department before taking early retirement 1991.
After meeting the Queen Allan said: “It had been a truly joyful event that was remarkably well organised and a privilege to be part of. Above all I must pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen who was dignified while making people feel at ease. Our daughter, Melanie, had made a reservation at a restaurant overlooking the Thames. It was good to spend a couple of hours thinking about what had happened because so much was a blur.
“Since I learnt of the award of an MBE for “Services to the Community in Liverpool and Rwanda” I have felt some concern about having accepted it. I knew that someone must have done a lot of work on the proposal and that others had needed to support the proposal, so felt that I should accept but was still concerned about accepting an award when I felt I had only been working as I believe God had called me to.”
It was August 2000 that Allan received an invitation to go to Rwanda with the Mid-Africa Ministry. This was just a few years after the 1994 genocide, and his first thought was ‘No Way!’.
As he said: “In those days the memory of the recent genocide was very real. The Lonely Planet Guide had one page for Rwanda on the Internet, saying ‘Danger, War Zone, Keep out’.”In the north west of Rwanda, where we were, mercenaries from the genocide were raiding after fleeing to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is still trouble to this day. Over 1m people had died and people in key jobs had been killed. I thought there is no way I would go out there.”
But he found himself on a plane to this small country, just half the size of Scotland, though he admits having some misgivings about the trip. The group managed to travel all over Rwanda. What greeted them was the aftermath of a terrible tragedy. In Nyarama, a town to the south of Kigali, they were faced with a church where 5000 people had taken refuge and had been murdered. The remains of the people were still in the church and the woman who acted as guide was able to point to a dress that contained bones and say “That is my mother-in-law.”
This obviously made a deep impression on Allan and he knew he had to go back.
In Shyira they found a war-ravaged maternity hospital that was not fit for anyone let alone the sick and there was only one newly qualified nurse. The schools were partly demolished with leaking roofs, and no desks or chairs for the pupils. The St. Luke’s group pledged there and then to find the means to repair the maternity hospital. But afterwards he wondered just what he had taken on! “I didn’t know how we would do it, but I just knew we had to try,” he said.
“I agreed to help,” said Allan, and then thought “Oh, what have I done!” Now 11visits later Allan can see the products of his and the church’s work.
To date Allan and the Shyira Trust have raised over £200,000, rebuilt the maternity hospital and trained 2 midwives , which has been successful in supporting safe motherhood . They are now fund-raising for an extension.
The Trust has also totally renovated a primary school but three secondary schools still need attention; rebuilt the homes of 14 child-headed families with more in the pipeline; helped provide a hospice; a children’s centre is under construction – while not complete it is in use; supported ministry in Shyira Parish; brought people from Rwanda to tell people in the UK about their lives; liaised with the Rotary Club of Formby that has raised £56,500 to equip the maternity hospital and provide books and equipment for three secondary schools and the hospice.
If you wish to find out more about the Shyira Trust or to help log on the www.shyiratrust.org.uk.
By Jeanette Smith
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