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5-GAMBIA

Charity donation in memory of brother helps deaf children

A school for deaf children in Gambia has received a four-figure windfall, after a Cambuslang catholic was inspired by the tragic story of his late brother to donate £1,000. — By Ryan McDougall

A SCHOOL for deaf children in Gambia has received a four-figure windfall, after a Cambuslang Catholic was inspired by the tragic story of his late brother to donate £1,000.

John Meechan, a parishioner of St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, made it his mission to give deaf children the best chance in life after witnessing the hardships endured by his brother, who was almost completely deaf.

Mr Meechan’s brother spent the first seven years of his life in hospital due to tuberculosis which stunted the growth in one of his legs by four inches, and mastoiditis, a severe ear infection, which almost completely stripped him of his hearing.

When his brother’s condition worsened, Mr Meechan began raising a few pounds every week for funeral costs. However, when his brother died the local council paid for the funeral, and he decided to give the money raised to Project Gambia: People Feeding People, a charity who work with St John’s School for the Deaf in Gambia, which was hosting an appeal at St Bride’s church.

Mr Meechan now hopes to break the stigma surrounding deafness.

“He had a sad life,” Mr Meechan said of his brother.

“Because of his deafness and disability, he was never educated. He was the butt of all jokes, branded the village idiot, couldn’t read or write—but he wasn’t stupid.

“Can you imagine spending the first seven years of your life in hospital? Because he was there so long, I don’t think he even knew my mum and dad were his parents, he probably thought they were just visitors.

“He was brought up Catholic, but I feel he fell away from his Faith a little because of everything he went through.”

Mr Meechan, one of 11 siblings, explained that they grew up in the mining community of Blantyre, and that he would often stand up to those who bullied his brother, even though he is four years younger.

“Things finally looked up a wee bit for him when he was 33,” he said. “He got his first hearing aid—they didn’t really have all that when he was a boy—it opened up a new world for him.

“But because he went into education so late, he still really struggled in society, and ended up with a drinking problem.

“He knew right and wrong but, as he had fallen away from the Church a bit, I don’t think he understood ‘sin.’

“After he passed, I had all this money that was meant to cover his funeral costs, but because the council paid for it, it was just sitting there, and I’d have felt terrible if I’d kept it for myself.”

Mr Meechan gave £1,500 to a family who lived nearby, who cared for a boy with similar problems to his brother. Then, he came to the conclusion that the rest must be given to a good cause in his brother’s memory.

Aidan Curivan, the fundraising team leader for Project Gambia, has since offered his thanks to Mr Meechan for his kind donation, as well as to St Bride’s Church, the Caritas pupils who helped out, and to Fr Paul Morton, the parish priest.

In total, their recent appeal has raised just over £3,500, a personal best for the charity.

He said: “The £3,500 will go far. The support we’ve had from everyone in the last few months, including from Mr Meechan, is the best the charity has ever had.

“It means we’ll be able to do things for the children of St John’s School for the Deaf that we’re never been able to do before, such as help renovate the school as some parts are quite dangerous.”

Mr Meechan, remembering his brother, who would now be 78, said: “If I was a wee boy again, I’d have made it my goal to make sure that kids who are deaf get the best chance.

“My brother’s whole life was dominated by his deafness.

“I gave this to helping children who are deaf because it’s what I want—and what my brother would want.”

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