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Africa

By Ariana Dunne

Ten years ago a green and white envelope arrived through my letterbox.

Aged 26 I was happy and grateful for what I had and was looking for ways I could give back and help others in need so I signed up to Childfund Ireland requesting to sponsor a child. When I opened the envelope and a picture of a dark skinned, brown eyed, dimple cheeked three year old boy fell into my lap, a big smile spread across my face.

‘We are delighted to introduce you to Shaban, your sponsored child’ the accompanying letter warmly informed me. Shaban was from Uganda, a country I had tenuous ties with as my brother's best friend was from there, but other than that I was unfamiliar with the small African country dubbed the Pearl of Africa.

The information pack informed me that Shaban was from one of the poorest areas in the country, and for just €22.00 per month my sponsorship would help to fund his vaccinations, healthcare, and education. My sponsorship would benefit his whole family, and indeed the whole community in some ways.

For the price of four cups of coffee a month, a boy’s life was being made better. Though thousands of miles away I already felt a connection to this little boy and felt thankful that I was fortunate enough to be able to help him.

A few months after receiving my intro pack another letter arrived through the door, it was the first of what would be many letters I received from Shaban. His early letters were update reports, no doubt written by a community member updating me on his progress accompanied by little childish drawings of colourful balls and scribbles.

As time went on these letters were written by Shaban himself, his English and handwriting improving with every year that passed. I learned he loved football, his favourite colour was red, he helped his mother fetch water after school and he loved his brothers and sisters.

Occasionally I would write back but not as often as he did. Perhaps the cynic in me thought he wouldn’t receive the letters. Perhaps I felt embarrassed about my seemingly privileged westernised life. Perhaps I was just lazy. I should have written more.

Over the years I moved job, moved house, moved country several times but I always maintained my sponsorship of Shaban. I made sure to update Childfund of my change of address so I would continue to receive his letters, each one allowing me to get a glimpse into the happy young man he was becoming.

When my brother's best friend invited me to his wedding I was thrilled to find out it was in Uganda. I immediately contacted Childfund to see if I could arrange a sponsor visit.

The Dublin office were as excited as I was, and couldn’t have been more helpful scheduling my meeting with Shaban and his family. Of course, Childfund go to great lengths to protect the children, meaning I underwent Garda vetting and various forms needed to be filled out, but it was an otherwise seamless process.

Many of my friends and family donated clothes, toys and money so that I could bring three large suitcases filled with presents for Shaban, his family and the wider community. I even brought him a book about Ireland, along with a red Liverpool jersey with his name emblazoned on the back. 

On August 15th this year, my brother and I were driven the five hours from Kampala by the lovely Childfund Uganda staff members. When we arrived all the women from the community, dressed in their finest colourful dresses, greeted us with chants and hollers, singing to us as we emerged from the car.

Shaban was there to greet me, a dark skinned, dark eyed, dimple cheeked 13 year old, who gave me the warmest hug and the biggest smile. His mother, father, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters all greeted me with love and hugs and immense warmth and gratitude that I had come to visit them.

Shaban was my ‘sponsored’ child but there was no denying they made me feel part of the family. We spent five short hours in one another’s company but it is five hours I will never forget. My brother and I were shown around the community, introduced to each member of Shaban’s family, had songs and dances performed for us, a humble but delicious meal was prepared and we exchanged gifts after having greeted the excitable and giggling school children all vying to catch a glimpse of the pale skinned westerners.

We took pictures, including ones with a Fuji Instax that developed like magic before their eyes meaning they had instant keepsakes of our visit. Though poor, and there was no denying the poverty, the community were rich in smiles and laughter.

The cynic in me was abated. There was no denying that my sponsorship was benefiting Shaban and his family. There was no doubt that my connection with him was real.

Through Childfund I have the option of sponsoring him until he is 24 and has completed his education, an option I will most likely take. He could become a doctor, a lawyer, a local farmer, a famous footballer, or he may fall in love, start a family and live a happy and contented life like his father before him in the community where he was born.

I’m grateful that for the sacrifice of four cups of coffee, or two overpriced gin and tonics, I was able to meet a wonderful little boy and his happy family thousands of miles away from Dublin and feel like I had made a small difference in the world.

To sign up to Childfund Ireland and sponsor a child today Click here.

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They're the gorgeous couple who have been inseparable since first meeting three years ago in Dubai.

Certainly, Mark and Michelle's glitzy summer wedding proved the high-point of what has very much been a picture-perfect, fairytale romance.

Still, as they both forge ahead with their respective careers, it seems that the love-birds are about to embark on their first big challenge of married life: a long period of separation.

Ms Keegan, 28, has now revealed that filming for BBC's five-part Our Girl drama will take her to Africa for a full three months in early 2016.

And she's not even sure if her 28-year-old reality TV star husband will be able to visit her.

 

Date night.

A photo posted by michkeegan (@michkeegan) on

In conversation with the Sun On Sunday, the actress admitted: "I'm out there for a long time. Obviously I'll miss him and I'll miss home.

"But it's my first job working away properly and I'm just excited for the challenge.

"If Mark can come out then he will pay me a visit. It'll be tough but worth it."

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In the face of an international backlash – fuelled by celebrity input – American Walter J Palmer has hired a PR firm. 

The dentist controversially killed Cecil the lion – one of Africa's most famous big cats and the star attraction at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park – around three weeks ago. 

He paid €45,000 to shoot the animal with a crossbow, later leaving him skinned and headless on the outskirts of the park after posing up proudly for photographs with his body.

And it has now been revealed that the medic has gone into hiding. He has received numerous death threats since news of the lion's slaughter first emerged earlier this week.

Indeed, he has employed Austin & Associates, a public relations firm based in Ohio, to handle to controversy. 

In a statement – the first time he has spoken publicly on the matter – Dr Palmer claimed: “In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game.

"I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” he continued.

“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the US about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

His Minneapolis dental surgery has since been forced to close. Activists have also left flowers, cards, and stuffed toys – in particular lions – at his place of work and his home.

Some have also dressed as 'dentist hunters' – armed with water-guns and wearing lion masks.

Cara Delevingne, and Ricky Gervais, as well as models Behati Prinsloo and Candice Swanepoel – who hail from Namibia and South Africa respectively – are just some of the celebrities who have take to social media to criticise Dr Palmer's actions. 

In an emotional appeal, American television host Jimmy Kimmel also asked viewers to donate to the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit in retaliation. 

And Peta said on its Twitter account that he should be "extradited, charged and, preferably, hanged," for his actions. 

Yesterday, Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, confirmed at a news conference that Dr Palmer is wanted for the death of Cecil.

The Zimbabwean authorities are acting fast too: Dr Palmer's hunting colleagues, Zimbabwean Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu are due to appear in court today on poaching charges.

If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison.  

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