Grandmother on a mission
A GRANDMOTHER is preparing to jet out to India to fulfil a pledge to her dying husband – and continue a mission of mercy started by them 16 years ago.
Sue Russell, from Saltash, is set to make an emotional pilgrimage back to the HIV Children's Home in Rivona, in South Goa which she and husband Colin have raised thousands of pounds to help.
Former ambulanceman Colin was diagnosed with terminal cancer on June 2 last year and died two months later leaving Sue totally devastated.
Despite his illness, Colin, 64, was still determined the couple's work in Rivona should continue and made Sue promise that she would carry on with the work they had started together. His only regret was that he was unable to say goodbye to all his children there.
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The couple's link with India started with their first holiday there in 1996, where they saw hundreds of beggars and people living in squalid conditions.
Shortly after their return home they saw a television programme in which a small boy was taken to an eye hospital to have cataracts removed.
They were so moved that they contacted the programme makers who forwarded the hospital address, enabling them to contact its founder Rajmal Jain, and arrangements were made to visit the Shree Bairav Eye Hospital on their next trip to India.
Their work for the hospital started immediately and the couple built a strong relationship with Rajmal, medical staff and patients over the years.
Backed by fundraisers, many from Saltash, they returned many times with financial and practical help to aid the continuation of the hospital's work.
Sue said: "To see a grandmother's joy at seeing her grandchildren for the first time is just incredible."
Although the eye hospital was always close to their hearts, Sue and Colin also got involved with other projects and began supporting two other schemes for which they became regular visitors.
One was a leprosy rehabilitation centre and the other, a home run by nuns for children who were suffering from the HIV virus.
Sue said: "Colin and I helped the eye hospital to become self-supporting by suggesting that they build extra wards, and encourage those patients that could afford to pay for the cost of their operations to do so. This supplemented those who were unable to.
"We had already started visiting an orphanage outside Bombay and began fund-raising for them on our return to Saltash, receiving one substantial donation from a lady in Plymouth."
The orphanage had just received another major legacy, so suggested the couple help one of their other units in South Goa.
Within the Rivona complex there is a care home for children aged up to 10 who have HIV, a unit for girls who have been sexually abused and a hospice for women with Aids.
Sue said: "We completed our visit of the complex thinking what a brilliant cause this was and said that we would love to get involved.
"The original donation from Plymouth helped enormously. In January 2007 we gave the children there a belated Christmas and we made sure that each of them had a Christmas present.
"Some were so touched they were crying.
"I was just so sad for them but I was also happy that we'd managed to make something good happen for them."
There was only one toilet and shower in one of the units and so through Sue's son, Mark, the head of a prep school in Hampshire, enough money was raised to build in six new showers and six new toilets for them.
More urgent work was then required.
Again Mark offered help from school fundraising which resulted in replacing the monsoon-damaged roof and provide a computer, school books and a new kitchen.
Sue said: 'Mark and his family have also been visiting during the past four years. It has been an education in itself for my grand-children.'
The number of children at the complex grew from six to 42 in the HIV unit, bringing the overall total to 102.
There were still so many plans in the pipeline when Colin's illness was diagnosed.
Sue returned to Rivona in January this year, determined to continue, with her husband no longer at her side.
in Saltash, Sue continues to talk to groups, organisations and schools, keen to give feedback to those who have already sponsored various improvements for the project, and said: 'We have always been so grateful to the people of Saltash and beyond for their support and contributions.'
Dedicated to her husband's memory and still totally committed to the work they started together, Sue is now all set to continue and will be returning to Rivona in January .
If anyone would like to arrange a talk or discuss sponsorship, Sue can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.