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Profile: Dick and Enid Eyeington

Jan 01, 2005 12:00 PM

Dick and Enid Eyeington were a British couple who had given almost 40 years of their lives to the care and education of children in Africa. Tragically, they were shot dead in Somaliland whilst working for SOS Children

Dick and Enid Eyeington were a British couple who had given almost 40 years of their lives to the care and education of children in Africa.

The couple leave their two grown-up children, Louise, a barrister, and Mark, a teacher who still lives in Swaziland, and also a grandson, Tane.

Early Life

Dick and Enid were childhood sweethearts, meeting at grammar school in County Durham and attending Durham University. Neither came from affluent backgrounds – Dick was the son of a coal miner – and, as graduates, they passionately believed that all children have a right to education. In 1963, they married and moved to Africa.

Tanzania

Dick and Enid moved to Tanzania in September 1963 on a British government scheme to teach on a three-year contract. Their experience in Tanzania was the start of a life-long love affair with Africa. In November 1964 their first child, Mark, was born and they returned to the UK in 1967.

Teaching in Britain

Dick became Geography master at Boston Grammar School from 1968 to 1971 and was also involved with sport in the school. Their daughter, Louise, was born in 1968.

Rod Dunn, Dick’s colleague at Boston Grammar School describes him as “a cheerful, helpful, caring person who had strong Christian beliefs. Both he and his charming wife loved Africa and loved the children he taught."

Swaziland

The Eyeingtons missed Africa and in 1971 they set out for Swaziland, which was to be their home for the next 32 years. From 1971 to 1995, they worked at the world famous Waterford Kamhlaba, a multiracial secondary school which was opened by Michael Stern after the introduction of apartheid laws in South Africa in 1948. Many South African children – black and white, rich and poor – were educated there and the school became renowned as a beacon of liberalism during apartheid.

Dick joined Waterford as a geography teacher, becoming head of geography, deputy head and finally, in 1984, headmaster. Enid also taught at the school, becoming the school nurse and head of hostels, as well as running the school's community services programme. Increasingly, she focused on nursing, setting up clinics for women and HIV sufferers and working with the community.

Their daughter Louise, who was brought up in Swaziland along with her brother Mark, says her parents loved Africa and were far from shy about asking for funds for the projects. "They adored the place and the people. They had a great belief that education could help build equality and end poverty.”

The couple were passionate anti-apartheid campaigners and, during Dick's tenure, they fostered an ethos of egalitarianism, creating a school that encouraged tolerance and vigorous debate. ANC and United Democratic Front speakers were brought from South Africa, and scholarships were set up for black South African students from the townships. Dick taught the three daughters of Nelson Mandela, who remained a close friend. His pupils also included Archbishop Desmond Tutu's children, and the future Swazi king, Mswati III.

The actor Richard E Grant was also taught by Dick, and describes the couple as "completely and utterly dedicated to education in Africa". Recalling an unforgettable field trip with them to Lesotho where they found dinosaur footprints in the Lava Mountains, Mr Grant says that the lives of many students “were enriched by knowing these two extraordinary, unique and inspired individuals."

Many pupils remember in particular Dick’s love of soccer and his skill on the football pitch. He was passionately committed to sports development and, later, as Chairman of the Premier League of Swaziland, he implored the Government to consider giving tax exemption to companies who sponsor sports organisations.

Lord Richard Attenborough visited the school when he was in South Africa, making Cry Freedom (the story of black activist Steve Biko) and he ended up becoming a trustee and a close friend of the Eyeingtons. Reflecting on their life and work, Lord Attenborough says, “I have never known two people who so consistently put their beliefs into action… the good they did during their lifetime today resonates in a multitude of hearts and minds and will continue to do so for many generations to come.”

During their last years in the country, the Eyeingtons were the driving force behind the work of SOS Children's Villages in Swaziland. Dick first joined as a board member of SOS Children's Villages Swaziland in 1987, then becoming national director in 1995. SOS already had one residential project for orphans in the Swazi capital, Mbabane, and Dick oversaw the construction of a second village and clinic in Nhlangano. Enid was also a key figure in SOS, taking the first steps to develop the HIV/Aids community outreach programmes now operating in Swaziland.

SOS Sheikh Secondary School

In September 2002, Dick and Enid moved to Somalia to take on their biggest challenge to date: the restoration and running of a derelict boarding school. Their decision to work in Somaliland was a culmination of their life experiences in the education of children and young people. With great passion and enthusiasm they decided to make a meaningful contribution to the young people of this war-torn country.

The SOS Sheikh Secondary School is situated near Sheikh in a remote part of the self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland and a three hours’ drive from the capital, Hargeisa. The once-renowned boarding school was established during British colonial rule and was mostly destroyed in fighting launched by long-time dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1989. It had fallen into further disrepair during the civil war when Somaliland broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 following the ousting of Siad Barre. By the time SOS set about restoring the school, it had been completely looted and then reduced to frameless structures standing in an open yard.

The old Sheikh Secondary School was rehabilitated and equipped by SOS Children’s Villages. Whilst SOS took pains to make sure that the School was architecturally reinstated in such a way as to look original as possible, they introduced many more resources and facilities than there had been in the past. The restored school had 3 laboratories (Physics, Biology and Chemistry), one library (now called the Eyeington library), Art room, Music Room, Recreation Room, Dinning Hall, Mosque, Canteen and 4 dormitories. The former boarding facility was rehabilitated with additional dorms established outside the perimeters of the school for girls, who were now eligible to join for the first time.

When SOS contacted Eyeington to help with identifying an experienced and qualified person to become principal of the Sheikh Secondary School, he began getting interested in the job himself. Before taking the job, he consulted Mr. Dallington, a former principal of the school and a man held in the highest esteem by generations of Sheikh Secondary graduates. Dallington gave him a lot of information about how to bring the school to its former form or even better.

Once he had accepted the post, Dick and his wife moved to Somaliland in 2002 and made their temporary home in a small house in the grounds of the school quarters. In conjunction with SOS Children's Villages, they worked hard to re-build the Sheikh Secondary School, doing everything from clearing the drains to ordering cooking utensils and material for uniforms.

Dick had a two-year contract but the couple reckoned they would need four years to re-establish the school. “4 years”, Dick explained at the time, “should give the school a very good start for what I think is going to be a great future”.

Following years of closure, the SOS Sheikh Secondary School reopened in January 2003 to its first 53 pupils. Many of the 45 boys and 8 girls who started at the school in 2003 had previously been denied any education by the civil war and the interclan fighting that followed it in this war-torn country. Another 50 pupils arrived in September 2003. According to Dick, the ultimate aim was to have an all-year round capacity of 200 students.

Education at the School was for 4 years and based on an international syllabus (IGCSE) syndicated by Cambridge University. Besides its international aspects, the school curriculum contained some essential local elements such as Islamic studies, Somali language and Arabic. Furthermore, in addition to the usual subjects learned at Secondary Schools, there were courses on information technology.

The teaching was initially carried out by highly qualified staff recruited by SOS from both Somaliland and Kenya. They were considered as resource teachers who would in 4 years time prepare local Somaliland staff to take over. The school worked at all times in constant co-operation and co-ordination with the Ministry of Education and Eyeington envisaged that the school would have a positive impact on the over-all education standard in the country: “It is an incentive for saying to students in Somaliland that if you do well enough you can have the opportunity to join Sheikh.”

In the short time they were at the SOS Sheikh Secondary School, the Eyeingtons won the love and respect of pupils, staff and neighbours. One student, Zakaria Mohumed Mohammed, says “Principal Dick and his wife Enid were really very human, kind and respectful people [and] their remarkable achievement will remain alive in our school.” Zakaria recalls of Dick that “He gave the courage to every one of us to be successful in life. During our regular meetings with Dick I was struck by his respect and companionship. I was always struck by his absolute sincerity and commitment to his work for those he sought to help.”

Enid, meanwhile, Zakaria describes as “a strong, caring individual who clearly cared deeply about girls. She used to try to improve and encourage girls to achieve equally as the boys. Enid's life was filled with purpose and meaning.”

Remembering the Eyeingtons

The tragic shooting of Dick and Enid Eyeington affected many people in Sheikh, in Somaliland and around the world. The day after the shooting, students all over the country took to the streets to demonstrate their outrage and grief. In Hargeisa, the capital, they took their protests to the office of the minister of education.

Two days after the murder, meanwhile, all schools in Somaliland were closed for one day as a measure of respect announced by Somaliland's President Dahir Riyaleh Kahin. Riyaleh also offered personal condolences to the Eyeington family and declared that the government would "do everything possible to arrest those who have committed this barbarous and inhuman crime."

When the head of SOS Children's Villages visited shortly after the murders, he described the sight of thousands of local people lining his route from the village to the school, standing in silence, their hands on their heads as a sign of sorrow.

Tributes to the couple continue. The second anniversary of their death was marked last month at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Sheikh Secondary School with a memorial service attended by school staff and students, members of the local community and representatives of the Somaliland government. They gathered in the SOS school compound before proceeding to nearby Sheikh village and then back to the school.

Students raised placards with inscriptions such as 'Dick and Enid will remain in our hearts forever', and 'You have left an indelible mark in our school'. Many of them also gave moving tributes to their former principal and his wife. A form one student, Hassan Jama Migane, moved the crowd with his inspiring poem on the late Eyeingtons, describing them as fallen heroes who moulded the lives of the youth in Somaliland. One girl described Enid, a champion of the girl-child, as "our role model" and "our mother". Students were also heard quoting an oft-repeated saying of Dick's: "Think globally and act locally." On admission, each new student is introduced to this quote as a sign of respect for the late principal.

Then, led by dignitaries from the Somaliland government including the Minister of State for the Interior, those present observed a minute's silence before speaker after speaker condemned the murders of Dick and Enid Eyeington. School principal, Mohammed Omer, read the eulogy while elders from the Sheikh community gave speeches, describing the Eyeingtons as generous and kind people who were conscious of community development. He cited, for instance, the power generator and the clean piped water supply as examples of their projects. The Mayor of Sheikh closed the occasion with a passionate appeal to well wishers to help the school in honour of the late Eyeingtons, so that the developments that they initiated could be realised.

In the evening, a football match in honour of Dick and Enid was played in the school playground between a community team and Sheikh students. The 'Eyeingtons Cup' was presented to the winning community team. On presenting the cup, the principal, Mohamed Omer said "Dick being a great footballer and coach deserves a football match in his honour and this will be our tradition from now on."

Continuing SOS involvement in Somalia

The SOS Sheikh Secondary School continued its work after a two week closure. As Willy Huber, regional director for SOS Children's Villages in East Africa and personal friend of Richard and Enid, explained:

“We believe that Dick and Enid would have wanted their work in Sheikh to be continued despite the tragedy that has befallen them. We also believe that the best way we can remember Dick and Enid is by continuing to support the fledgling School, thereby making a lasting contribution to the people of Somaliland.

Naturally we will all need time to mourn for Dick and Enid; at the same time it is our firm intention to honour the memory of the Eyeingtons by keeping the community of students and staff together, by renewing our support and commitment to the school, and by fulfilling our promises to the people of Somaliland. In this we are sure that we have the full backing and support of the community of Sheikh, who have already offered their resources, protection and friendship."

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