The guest speaker at u3a Todmorden’s September Members Meeting was Janet Dearden, with ‘My life and times, as an educational leader, in Sudan’.
U3a Todmorden is a large group of over 400 active older people from across Calderdale and part of the wider U3a organisation. They meet monthly at Central Methodist Hall in Tod and run a large number of special interest groups and activities for their members.
You can find out more about them in our In Touch directory and below is a report from their publicity officer Colin Sanson on their September Member’s Meeting with guest speaker, Janet Deardon.
Janet taught English to students in the UK, before receiving a phone call from a consultant in Sudan. He said that, after another civil war, there was a peace agreement which, unlike a few of them before, looked as if it would be successful. He asked if she would consider teaching English in Sudan. She was, understandably, doubtful but agreed to give it a try.
Janet and her son flew out to Sudan and landed in a place that looked more like a factory floor than an airport, and without conveyor belts to deal with luggage, which was thrown out of the plane. The consultant already mentioned was waiting to greet her, along with another man who would jointly run the school. This was an example of how the Sudanese regarded women, that they could not lead, or run an organisation without the help of a man.
In the following days, a meeting was held to discuss the requirements of the actual school building. They had to wait five hours for the meeting to start, and were told that making people wait for a meeting was a mark of respect for their importance. They spent some of that time in a Sudanese Market, noting the number of ‘shops’ being a sheet on the ground being looked after by men with only one leg. Another reminder of the civil wars, and the lack of healthcare, especially aftercare, in Sudan.
Janet and her son presented a design that would only be used for a school, aware that the political situation in Sudan meant that another civil war, or similar might break out again. After presenting their thoughts, and plans for the proposed school to the meeting, they returned home to allow the Sudanese to consider them. A fortnight later, they received another phone call from Sudan to say that a diplomat’s house was being converted into a school and could she return?
After encouragement from her family, she went back, alone this time. The building was being converted as she had suggested, and included an apartment for her, plus she was asked to be the director of the school. She was uncertain, even reluctant at first. But her husband was two months from completing a job as a consultant, and suggested that when he did, they both should go and give it a try. They both thought that the peace in Sudan might not last and gave themselves two months in that country to see what happened. The two months turned into two years. She told us that now, some sixteen years later, the country hasn’t had another serious war or conflict, but still isn’t exactly settled. This could be largely because it is made up of tribes, with certain ones taking the best jobs and positions, and the other tribes who don’t agree with them about many things.
She drummed up more business for the school, for example with a communications company whose employees sent out emails in English, but which began with ‘Dear Darling’. On that occasion, planning and details of the course were carried out and written in a couple of days.
She told us about a day out with some of the teachers one Friday to go to another part of Khartoum to see ‘The Whirling Dervishers’ – which most of
the audience would have heard of at least. But as it was a Friday – a holy day in Sudan, there was no public transport so they set off to walk there. A truck pulled up beside them, and the driver asked who they were and what they were doing. Janet told him, and he helped her group of teachers into the back of his truck, and invited Janet to sit in the cab with him – taking them there, and then back to the school. He also decided to call Janet ‘Queen Victoria’, and became a friend of the school, and its staff. As well as the royal nickname, she was so active and busy, that many people referred to her as ‘The Crazy Woman’.
Her most memorable incident was when visiting, and driving through Port Sudan. The car being driven by her husband was struck head on by a truck. Both she and her husband were injured, along with a shepherd nearby who was walking along with his goats. Both she and her husband were taken to a ‘Field Hospital’, along with the shepherd. This hospital was very poorly equipped and staffed, so Janet made contact with the school for them to send a car to take them back to Khartoum for treatment. She had lost one of her shoes when the collision happened, but the shepherd had retrieved it and returned it to her. Janet made sure that the shepherd also received medical attention in Khartoum.
Finally, she recalled the kindness and helpfulness of the school, it’s staff and pupils, who helped and comforted her when her husband sadly died in Sudan. Janet continues to support projects in third world countries.
After questions from the members and a vote of thanks to Janet, the meeting ended.
The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting will be on Thursday the 17th of November 2022 at 1.45 p.m., open to all fully paid-up members at the Central Methodist Hall, Todmorden. The speaker for this meeting is ‘Northerners: A History. From the Ice Ages to the 21st Century’