By Peadar Dunphy
EARLIER this year, Sheila Ryan met me at The Pembroke hotel on Patrick Street. As I was catching a bus to Dublin I explained that I had thirty minutes or so to hear her story about her work in Tanzania and her charity ‘Kilimanjaro Direct.’ Two hours later, I was still sat in the same seat at The Pembroke, completely engrossed by the amazing story being related to me by Sheila.
Sheila came to Kilkenny in 1979 at twenty one years of age and taught Music and English in the Presentation Secondary school. This post was hers for forty one years .
Sheila was a native of Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary until she was ten, when the family moved to Doon, Co. Limerick, where her father was the village chemist.
However, Kilkenny folk claim Sheila as one of their own as she spent the best part of her life in the city of the Stripy men and women.
She now lives in Kilimanjaro, running her charity, and travels back to Kilkenny regularly to see family and friends. Her charity work began in 2005 by bringing food to families and then she and others started building houses for people with disabilities.
I decided my trip to Dublin would have to wait. I needed to hear more of this wonderful story.
Kilkenny woman Sheila Ryan founded Kilimanjaro Direct over 13 years ago after being deeply moved by the plight of children living in the area and their lack of access to decent education.
A teacher for 41 years at the Presentation Secondary School in Kilkenny, Sheila knows first-hand the transformational impact education has on the lives of young people.
After a holiday in 2005 Sheila was moved when she witnessed first-hand the desperate living conditions of some people, many of them children living in mud huts with no access to a decent education.
Fast forward two years and the charity, Kilimanjaro Direct, was born. Since then a school, the Liberty English Medium Primary School, has been set up and 14 homes have been built.
The charity relies mainly on voluntary donations and over the years the people of Kilkenny have been incredible in supporting the cause. Sheila, who moved full time to Tanzania two years ago, was recently back home in the Marble City.
“I am so grateful to people for their support and donations,” she said.
Sheila explained that the rising cost of fuel and climate change was driving up costs for the charity.
“It is very difficult at the moment for everyone and people here are struggling as well with the rising cost of fuel and food,” she said.
“We are seeing this as well, as fuel prices are going up all the time and we have four buses operating to bring the children to and from school.
“Climate change has also had a direct impact on the charity,” she added. “As well as giving our 220 students an education we also provide them with two meals every day. The price of maize has doubled, the crop withered because there was no rain so the cost of providing meals has also increased substantially.”
The positive impact of the work of the charity is clearly evident and the youngsters continue to thrive academically.
“We have had two lots of graduations with students completing their primary education, which is fantastic.
“We also came first out of 167 schools in the Kilimanjaro area and we are very proud of our achievements. Some of our students have disabilities and have overcome a lot of obstacles so it is great to see them doing so well,” she finished.
Kilimanjaro Direct (KD) is a charity that has built 14 houses and a primary school in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
The school is run on donations alone. KD provides food and education for twenty two impoverished children. The ethos of the charity is that 100% of ALL donations go directly to the running of the school and not one cent is taken for expenses or administration fees. Everybody involved in the charity pays their own expenses and raise much needed funds to keep the school going purely out of the goodness of their hearts.
Sheila is constantly fundraising to support her charity work and recently friends and staff from The Presentation ran a successful coffee morning in aid of the cause.
On December 19th Lake Productions will stage a Christmas concert at the Set Theatre with all monies raised going directly to the charity.
The line up at The Set will feature some of Kilkenny’ best known acts including choirs from Castlecomer male choir and the CBS choir from Kilkenny.
Kilkenny band Sola, Billy Carrigan and friends, members of St Patricks band , Ali Comerford, members of the Musical Society will also feature on the night.
A poetry section featuring poems by Seamus Heaney is currently being worked on by Lake production while they also promise to present Riverdance, with a difference.
Ukrainian resident Oksana Kurovets-Ovcharenko will treat the audience to some traditional tunes on her bandura instrument.
Tickets available from The Set Theatre and from Evenbrite.