'An unthinkable honour' - Woman made MBE in recognition of Peru work

Jill Bignell was made an MBE at a delayed ceremony at Keswick, almost two years later due to Covid.

Jill Bignell was made an MBE at a delayed ceremony at Keswick, almost two years later due to Covid. - Credit: Jill Bignell

When Jill Bignell went to Peru on sabbatical leave 15 years ago to have a change in her life, she never dreamt it would lead to an honour from the Queen.

The retired English teacher, from Saxlingham Nethergate in south Norfolk, set up charity Educateperu in 2007, which helps provide children with an education in the village of Pachacútec. 

She has since been made an MBE for her services to poor children and their education in Peru.

Jill Bignell founder of Educate Peru says aid workers should not be forced to pay quarantine costs

Jill Bignell, founder of Educateperu, pictured with children in Peru. - Credit: Jill Bignell

The Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk Lady Philippa Dannatt presented the charity founder with her award earlier this month after a delayed ceremony was held at Keswick, almost two years later due to Covid.

Ms Bignell said: "It was an amazing hour and a half that I will never forget.

"I just kept looking around and thinking 'I can't believe all this is for me'.

Charity founder Jill Bignell has been given an MBE for her work with children in Peru.

Charity founder Jill Bignell has been made an MBE for her work with children in Peru. - Credit: Jill Bignell

"When someone keeps saying 'you should get a medal for this work in Peru', you laugh and say 'that would be nice', but it never happens to ordinary people like me."

But it did, and Ms Bignell said the recognition has been an "unthinkable honour".

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She said: "Education is my passion and I loved being a teacher.

"In Peru, education is the single most influential factor in changing a child’s life.

Jill Bignell pictured with her family.

Jill Bignell pictured with her family. - Credit: Jill Bignell

"Educateperu now has a school with 800 children in it, in one of the poorest zones in Peru."

Ms Bignell said the reaction from people in her community was "astonishing", with many already supporting her fundraising events and the children in Peru.

She said: "When you set yourself a goal, you can do it, even if you are just an ordinary person.

Jill Bignell pictured with Leonardo, 11, outside his house.

Jill Bignell pictured with Leonardo, 11, outside his house. - Credit: Jill Bignell

"I don’t know anyone who has received an award from the Queen and my parents would be thrilled were they still alive.

"The reward for me is the smile on the children’s faces when they see me, and the thanks from the parents for putting the school there.

"Our school is clean, properly built, has flush toilets, a dining room, big outside spaces for them to play – none of which they have when they go home to their wooden huts with tin roofs.

"It is not difficult to improve people’s lives."

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