A message from Steve Blunden, CEO of Link Community Development.
Steve Blunden pays tribute to a friend and long-term supporter of Link Community Development
We are very saddened to hear the news that one of our best friends, Frances Hillier, passed away on New Year’s Day. It is hard to put words together in times of such sadness, but, as Frances might have said, ‘try the beginning Steve’.
Frances’ journey with Link started in 2000 when she applied to be a ‘Global Teacher’ which involved spending 5 weeks in a rural school in the Transkei in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in 2001. While I would have met Frances during one of the training weekends, my first real recollection of her is from her placement in South Africa. Frances was part of the first Global Teacher group to go to South Africa. Our budget was tight, so we decided to transport the teachers by bus from Joburg airport to Umtata, a journey of around 12 hours. It was late July and a cold front hit South Africa. It was really cold and the bus heater failed. I was driving in a four wheel drive vehicle behind the bus and every time we stopped for a break, the mood was definitely taking shape. Some were really angry, all were tired, others (including one wearing shorts) thought it was just part of the journey. Leaders had already started to emerge on that journey and Frances was one of them.
Frances was placed at Sibabale School in Ugie. She was initially surprised that her hosts were an Afrikaner couple, Linie and Chris Gouws. Despite struggling with the placement to begin with, Frances developed a deep relationship and learned a great deal about South Africa through the relationship Linie and Chris had with Ugie. Sadly, Linie was killed and Chris was badly beaten in an attack in 2012. A stark reminder of the levels of violence that South Africa has endured.
In 2002, Frances led a team of former Global Teachers who helped us co-ordinate the programme in the Eastern Cape with a fresh group of Global Teachers. She did the same in 2003! Out of the 2002 reflection, Liz Bartley, who became one of Frances’ closest friends, combined with Frances to demand that Link did more to tackle the impact of HIV AIDS in Eastern Cape schools. At the time, South Africa was in denial about the linkage between HIV & AIDS. In 2003/4, Link worked with the Department of Education and partners to develop an HIV AIDS School Planning Guide which was delivered throughout South Africa, and Link’s main focus in South Africa from 2004 was in HIV AIDS, particularly in the Eastern Cape. But it started with Frances, Liz and others, reflecting on what they had experienced in schools and their communities.
The next step Frances took on her journey with us was to take a part-time contract in our London office, perhaps turning out to be the longest 18 months in Frances’ Link career! Her work in London enabled her to develop some of the case studies from the hundreds of Global Teacher experiences so that others could learn from them. During this period, Frances teamed up with Alison Rudd Clarke to develop an Eastern Cape libraries project.
In 2005, Link was invited by the Scottish Executive to establish an education project in Malawi. Once I had done the initial preparation work in Malawi, the two people I turned to for help in setting up the project were Frances and Liz Bartley. That opened a new chapter for both Frances and Liz, initially with Link and then with other projects which became very dear to them. Ten years on and Link’s programme in Malawi continues. Elisabeth Ritchie has been working with the MoE in Malawi to develop a new ‘school standard’ that could impact on every child in Malawi, but, without the initial work in Dedza by Frances and Liz, none of this would have been possible!
During this journey, Frances became a real friend. Actually, I think she became a friend on first meeting. The sort of friend who would do anything for you. A friend who would make you feel so special with the warmth of her smile. A friend who would find the positive to highlight when you’ve just presented her with the doom and gloom of a project challenge. I am sure that there are former Global Teachers who will have recollected their experience with Frances as they’ve read mine.
I learned a great deal from Frances. I will miss her dearly. I am sure that many will feel the same. On behalf of Link, the projects you influenced in South Africa and Malawi, and the lives you touched on your journey, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
Our thoughts are with all of Frances’ family and friends.
CEO Link Community Development International