An appeal has been launched to help buy a new bus so that sisters including Middlesbrough-born Sister Pat Pearson can continue providing vital services to vulnerable communities in Ghana.

In January, Monsignor Gerard Robinson visited the Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre at Ahotokurom, which means “place of serenity”, and was deeply impressed by the work being carried out there.

Now he is asking St Mary’s Cathedral parishioners and others in the diocese to raise the £50,000 the community of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph need to replace their ageing vehicle.

The centre, located near Cape Coast, was established in the early 1980s as a partnership between the DMJ sisters, the Franciscan order and local people, to rehabilitate and reintegrate former leprosy and Buruli ulcer sufferers into their communities and its list of services have expanded ever since.

Their present bus is old and unreliable and often breaks down and is so small and uncomfortable that children and leprosy patients often have to stand or sit on each other’s knees.

“Sister Pat and her colleagues have been in desperate need of a new bus for some time,” said Monsignor Robinson. “The bus is essential as it the only provision of transport for children and adults who attend the day centre, as well as many staff. It’s a lifeline for those in need and provides so many benefits to families living in poverty in the surrounding villages.”

Sister Pat taught at St Alphonsus School in Middlesbrough and managed a children’s home in Marton before beginning her work in Ghana.

The centre has three units, St Elizabeth’s, St Joseph’s and St Clare’s. St Elizabeth’s day unit supports 45 children and young adults with disabilities, who begin being collected from their villages at 5.30am each day and arrive at 7.30am.

St Joseph’s is a residential and part-time respite care home for up to 22 children and young adults. It began when teenagers were discharged from the leprosy hospital and could not return home because of the fear of stigmatisation and rejection by family and community.

St Clare’s is a residential home for up to 20 elderly and physical disabled leprosy patients who have lost limbs, ulcers and blindness. There is also outreach and day-care programmes.

“The centre carries out excellent work in a happy, loving, caring and supportive atmosphere,” said Monsignor Robinson. “It offers a peaceful and serene environment for those who have suffered much through their lives, treating them with love, care, dignity and respect. Mass at Ahotokurom is an especially joyous and colourful experience, with beautiful singing and drums.”

There is extreme poverty in the surrounding villages, with at times inadequate nutrition and many people living together in mud huts or one-roomed concrete buildings. This brings additional challenges where a family member has a disability.

Despite this, some Ahotokurom students have done extremely well and are taking university courses. Monsignor Robinson donated three laptop computers, giving students access to electronic learning for their degrees.

“They have already sent emails thanking me and it’s great to keep in touch with their progress,” Monsignor Robinson added.

The new bus will cost £70,000 but they already have £20,000 towards the purchase from other benefactors. Other needs include further development of the water supply and more help with education.

Some of the money will come from the Justice & Peace Group’s “Ten Pence Bowl” at the back of the cathedral, where parishioners are encouraged to donate their loose change. This initiative has supported a number of good causes in recent years.

One parishioner has suggested collecting money in a small wooden bus painted in Ghanaian colours as a visual reminder of the appeal. Events are being organised and additional donations or ideas would be welcomed.

It is also hoped that the parish’s two schools, St Gerard’s and St Augustine’s, will get involved with the project.

Monsignor Gerard is hoping the centre’s chief executive, who is making a trip to the UK in September, will have the time to visit the cathedral to talk a little bit more about the work and be updated on there fundraising progress.

He is also hoping to return to Ghana to spend more time with the people at the centre later in the year.

If you would like to help, please call 01642 597750 or email parish@middlesbroughrccathedral.org.

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