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A tribute to Tom

A tribute to Tom

Travel writer Tom Parkinson had just finished a dream research trip to Madagascar in 2007 when he died suddenly and unexpectedly, aged 28. However, his legacy is living on at an SOS School, thanks to the support of his parents, Dilys and Stephen Parkinson, who take up the story.

Tom loved Madagascar and was very taken with the children there. It is an extremely poor country where many children have no chance of an education. We heard that SOS Children wanted to set up an ASAMA* class at a new school being built in the SOS Children’s Village at Antsirabe – a town Tom had visited. The course gives older children an opportunity to complete their primary education in one year instead of five, thus improving their work prospects and life chances. It seemed like an ideal way to remember our eldest son.

The warmest of welcomes

While we were raising funds to build the new class, regular news updates gave us a real connection to the school, as did the photos of a tree that was planted as a memorial to Tom. In September we finally fulfilled our ambition to travel to Madagascar and visit the SOS Children’s Village. There we felt touched to receive such a royal welcome. Daniel Paniez, the Director of SOS Children in Madagascar, made a very moving speech about how much our support for the SOS School and memorial garden meant, and how Tom lived on through this. It was emotional yet very positive as we could see how something so good and long lasting had come from our tragedy.

The SOS mother who showed us around her house in the SOS Children’s Village gave us a real sense of a lovely happy family home. At the nearby SOS Medical Centre we couldn’t believe that one doctor looked after more than 1,000 patients. Her dedication and cheerfulness was overwhelming. We hadn’t fully realised just how much SOS Children does to help the surrounding communities and how crucial this aspect of its work is.

Pupils with prospects

It was thrilling to be in the ASAMA classroom. The curriculum is really taxing and we were struck by how motivated the students must be – they have to learn to read and write if they can’t already and undertake the whole primary curriculum in less than a year. They are usually aged 10 to 14, but we also heard a lovely story about a young mum who studied for her primary certificate to then train for a job to support her family. Without the primary qualification, there is little prospect for people to improve their very hard way of life. So it was heart-warming to hear that all the students were successful last year.

Our visit gave us a real appreciation of the wonderful work that SOS Children is doing in Madagascar and we plan to make the connection with the school a permanent one. We had always thought our visit to Madagascar would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but now we are not so sure...

*ASAMA is an intense education programme nationally recognised in Madagascar that condenses the core subjects of the five-year primary curriculum into ten months.

Pictured above: Stephen and Dilys Parkinson (centre) with Daniel Paniez, Director of SOS Children’s Villages Madagascar (left), and architect Jocelyn Andrianoasy who designed the SOS School.

Find out more about SOS Children’s Villages in Madagascar.