Former Hartlepool student working to give African children their first Christmas

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AN aid worker from East Durham is working to bring Christmas to poor African children for the first time.

John St Julien, from Blackhall Colliery, is helping to improve people’s lives in Tanzania as the volunteer manager of an aid project called Village to Village.

He has been living and working in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for the last four months in a village called Uchira where 95 per cent of children live in one room huts and homes with no water or power.

During his time there, John, 28, has helped the locals in a host of projects from improving their agriculture to teaching English and educating them about HIV and AIDS.

And with Christmas fast approaching, he is raising funds to help give children a gift and help their education at the same time.

The project started after John was shocked at what the children had to make do with for toys from a handful of rusty nails to rubbish in a box for a toy truck.

John, who went to Hartlepool College of Further Education, said: “The ingenuity of some of the toys I have seen made from rubbish is amazing. It is however rubbish from the street and shouldn’t be a child’s toy.”

He went to the local town and bought some white boards for the children to write and draw on and a few balls.

“A few weeks later and no children were playing with rubbish around where I lived,” he said.

It got John thinking about the kind of educational toys he used to get as a child for Christmas.

He said: “I decided then to try and bring Christmas to the children here for the first time.

“I know they won’t have the Christmas dinner and so on but just a gift and to understand the Christmas spirit I have grown up with in the UK.

“So I went to the poorest families in the village. We explained our plan and some were even confused as to the concept of a gift.”

Using the internet and a dedicated Facebook page John is raising funds to bring the project to fruition.

It is just one of many projects he has been involved in since joining the non governmental organisation.

John, who used to work in advertising for the Mail, said: “I had some savings and wanted to do something worthwhile with them.

“I had watched a YouTube video for a different NGO with the same name in Uganda. The video was about the children here and how hard it is for them, it was very upsetting for me to see and I wanted to help.”

During his time in the country John has been the only white man or ‘mazungu’ in the village,

Around 90 per cent of people rely on farming to survive so teaching new techniques and testing new crops has been a big part of Village to Village’s work.

Another important area is in educating people, including school children, about HIV and AIDS and busting myths around the virus.

John said: “Its important to tackle any false truths that are travelling around. One example is that some children thought having a wash after sex would prevent them from contracting HIV.”

But the organisation provides help however it can.

John said: “Just this morning I provided the funding for a boy called Faraji to go to school instead of being sent away on his own to become a child labourer in the city.”

If you want to help bring Christmas to the children of Uchira visit www.facebook.com/Christmasinuchira