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Tenneh Cole hoping to achieve her dream of completing her higher education - thanks to EDP readers' donations

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 June 2013

Tenneh Cole at school in Sierra Leone in 1998.

Tenneh Cole at school in Sierra Leone in 1998.

The EDP's African "Miracle Girl" is hoping to achieve her dream of completing her higher education and starting a book-keeping career - thanks to readers' donations.

Tenneh Cole leaving the N&N with nursery nurse Kathleen Symon after her operation.Tenneh Cole leaving the N&N with nursery nurse Kathleen Symon after her operation.

A charity trust fund of £8,000 will soon be supporting a tailored education programme for the war orphan, who was flown to Norfolk to have a bullet removed from her brain in 1996.

Tenneh Cole, now aged 22, has battled against a lack of speech and profound deafness, to enter a special secondary school in her homeland, Sierra Leone.

With this vital cash support, she now aims to pursue a commercial course in which she can use her skill with numbers as a career.

The fund – created using EDP readers’ gifts in the late 1990s – will help to pay her education fees as well as other expenses.

Hoping for a bright future, Tenneh Cole, 22, at home in Freetown.Hoping for a bright future, Tenneh Cole, 22, at home in Freetown.

The determined young woman is taking the latest step in a remarkable life of recovery from the horrors she endured during her country’s decade of civil war.

Her progress is viewed as a symbol of hope and survival across Africa following the nightmare of her tragic early life.

As a bewildered five-year-old, Tenneh attracted world headlines when she survived a bullet in the brain and was airlifted to the UK for medical treatment by the EDP and our partner charity, Hope and Homes for Children (HHC).

In a successful operation at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the AK-47 assault rifle round was removed by surgeons from behind her right eye.

Fired into the sky during a rebel attack on her village, the falling bullet had lodged there after punching through the top of her skull, unobserved for 18 months until she complained of severe headaches and was X-rayed.

After recuperation in Norfolk she returned to Sierra Leone and now lives in the capital, Freetown, with a foster mother.

Blind in her right eye, Tenneh has worked hard to build a range of skills, including signing and lip-reading, supported for the last 17 years by HHC, the charity founded by Beccles-born former British Army Colonel Mark Cook.

Thousands of children like her have been rescued from war and appalling state homes across Eastern Europe and Africa by the charity since its launch in 1994, supported by its first major donation, a £25,000 cheque from EDP readers.

All have been reunited with their birth families, or given new lives with foster and adoptive parents in their own countries.

Col Cook said: “The EDP and its readers have been magnificent partners for so long in our efforts to rescue children like Tenneh and so many others from the horrors of war and cruel institutions.

“Her joy and success today are a tribute to that generosity, which has helped us to develop our work across so many countries.”

The former UN commander, whose family ran a butchery business in Lowestoft for many years, said that the charity’s work in Sierra Leone was now complete, following the country’s return to a path of peace and gradual redevelopment.

For more than two decades, the charity has worked in the war-ravaged West African country alongside a local group, Help a Needy Child International (HANCI-SL), developing its skills, governance and other resources.

“That work has focused on developmental aid, keeping vulnerable families together and has helped more than 10,000 men, women and children – many of the latter being homeless orphans; the tragic survivors of a war which left so many without hope or homes,” said Col Cook.

Last year HANCI-SL reached a new level and has become Action for the Rights of Children (ARC), which aims to become the strongest advocate in West Africa for children’s rights through its work with vulnerable children.

That work is also being shared with ARC by another British charity, Street Child, run by Tom Dannat, the son of Norfolk-based General Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British Army.

Col Cook pointed out: “One of the ways we create real and lasting change is through building the capacity and skills of local Non Governmental Organisations to enable them to work independently and we are delighted that ARC has now reached this stage.”

The move ties in with a key strategy for Salisbury-based HHC – the closure of orphanages and institutions for children across the globe by 2017.

With the long-term support of EDP readers, the charity has shut down a wide range of such homes and has developed loving adoptive and other family care for suffering children in nine countries, from Bosnia and Romania to Rwanda and Sudan.

Col Cook said: “It is a bold strategy, but this will end the tragedy for countless children who are still suffering now and would suffer in the future without the love and security of a family.”

If you want to help or know more about HHC you can find the website at www.hopeandhomes.org. You can also call the team at 01722 790111. Email: info@hopeandhomes.org . Donations can be made via the website or to Hope and Homes for Children, East Clyffe, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP3 4LZ.

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