A DELAYED flight for once proved fortunate for aid workers from Stratford who narrowly escaped the bombings at Brussels Airport.
The five-strong team were en route to Sierra Leone via Brussels and had been due to land in the Belgian capital around the time the bombs exploded – but their flight from Birmingham was late.
The team – including Stratford School teachers Neil Morland and Katie Davey, Katie Broadbent, a former teacher at the Alcester Road School, together with builder Marcus Johnson and cabinet maker Brett Pillinger – were jetting to the impoverished West African country to help build a primary and secondary school.
Their flight was minutes from landing at Zaventem Airport when it was diverted to Oostende.
Determined to carry on with their mission, they spent two uncertain days grounded before managing to get a flight to Paris, and on to Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.
And the two days were not without scares, including a suitcase left unattended at Oostende airport, which caused panic in the departure lounge, and the innocent popping of a child’s balloon in a café at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport which led people to dive for cover.
Group leader Neil said: “Despite there being lots of uncertainty and changes to our plans in those couple of days, all of which was of course perfectly understandable, we were grateful to be able to continue our journey and arrive at our base near the Kissitown refugee camp by 1am on Friday morning – just two days after we were originally due to arrive. The airline did a remarkable job.
“To add to the complexities of our own travel arrangements, we’d been told that we could take an excess luggage allowance, so we had close to 300kgs of supplies between the five of us, and our suitcases were full of unusual items, as diverse as wood saws and a lot of medical equipment and supplies.
“Our estimated arrival time at Brussels Airport not only saved us but also our vitally important luggage – the refugee camp only gets supplies when we visit and, due to the Ebola outbreak last year, we weren’t able to visit in 2015, so medical supplies have been running very short.”
The team arrived safely following three flights, two car journeys, a train ride and a ferry trip.
They immediately set to work on Project 3580, set up in 2008, and named in memory of the 3,580th child to have died in a small refugee camp in one year.
Their latest work included helping complete a primary school and start on a secondary school.
The primary school building will be named after Neil’s mum – the Maa Hilary Building – who left money to the project in her will.
The project has raised £150,000 since it was founded, and its next target is a further £10,000 to refurbish the hospital clinic.
Visit Project 3580’s Just Giving page www.justgiving.com/3580 to donate.