Wexford People

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FR. SEAN RETURNING TO AFRICA MALARIA SCARE TWO AND A HALF YEARS ago, Wexford priest Fr Sean Devereux was airlifted home from his posting in The Gambia, having been struck down with an aggressive strain of malaria. Now fully recovered, he is again packing his bag in preparation for a return to the West African state to resume his missionary work there.

It was February in 2010 when the Tacumshane-born cleric contracted his illness, and there was an ardous six-month path to recovery. He was then keen to immediately return to Africa, but medics advised that he stay in Ireland for some time to help his recuperation, and so he has been serving as a curate in Clonard since then. While has has enjoyed his time there and been involved centrally in many aspects of the community, he is still looking forward to getting back to the Diocese of Banjul in The Gambia, which contrasts greatly with Wexford in many ways. Even in terms of area alone, his posting there is roughly the size of Counties Wexford and Wicklow combined.

'It takes me two and a half hours to drive from one end of it to the other!' Fr Devereux revealed.

This part of The Gambia is largely rural, and as a result there is a huge focus on agriculture in the area. One of the main projects which he hopes to initiate, and if possible complete, throughout his three-year contract is to bring an irrigation system to service an area of approximately 700 acres of agricultural land.

He hopes to establish a communal borehole which could deliver water to a large number of small farm holdings. The knock on effect of such a scheme would not only be the creation of employment but a boost in production.

Cashew nuts, rice, cous cous and maize are some of the most widely grown crops in the area. However, all are dependent on a 'good' rainy season, which usually lasts for between 12 and 16 weeks of the year.

He explained that a trend emerging in the undeveloped state is one which is seeing a largescale shift from rural villages to the urban townships. Droves of young people are being drawn away from the land on the promise of white collar jobs which he argues are 'simply not there'.

The solution, he believes, is to improve the infrastructure and ' bring agriculture on' in terms of technology, all the while remaining mindful of the long-standing customs and traditions in terms of African agriculture.

Fr. Devereux also hopes to progress another major project which he began work on back in 2008. This is the construction of a new primary school for some 400 pupils. While the building itself is just about complete, some work still needs to be done before that many children can be educated there. Still, according to Fr Devereux, the projects has already benefitted the community in more ways than one. 'Not only did we build a school for the children, but the actual construction created jobs', he said.

In every task he undertakes he adopts the approach that 'you help one person, or one family at a time'.

One particular man stands out in his mind as he recalls the school-building project. This man was employed as a brick-layer, but Fr. Devereux immediately recognised his potential and took him under his wing.

After weeks of intensive training, the man was appointed to the role of Site Manager. After the work was complete, armed with glowing recommendations, he went on to secure a job with a large construction firm and therefore has secured a regular income for his family.

The school was partly funded through donations from the people of Wexford ,who continue to support it through fundraising activities. Fr. Devereux in particular paid thanks to the students at Kennedy Park National School and Scoil Mhuire, who recently raised enough money to buy enough text books and stationery for the entire student body there.

Some Wexford people have gone one step further and elected to take on the sponsorship of one student at a cost of €50 a year, which Fr. Devereux estimates that this is how much it costs to keep one child in education.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to The Fr. Sean Devereux Mission Account can do so by making a lodgement into Bank of Ireland Wexford account number 67544897, sort code 906718.

The Wexford priest also plans establish a blog which he hopes to post to daily when he arrives. He is determined to ensure that the work undertaken is well documented so all donors can see exactly how their money is spent and be certain of the mission's transparency.