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All the children were wearing T-shirts with Hil's name on... it was so moving... I wish she could have been there; AFRICAN SCHOOL IS CARING TEACHER'S LASTING LEGACY.

Byline: DIANE PARKES

Children in far-off Gambia are being taught in a school dedicated to the memory of a Midland teacher with a passion for helping youngsters achieve their full potential. DIANE PARKES reports IN A classroom in Gambia young children are taking their first steps in education.

Each day, these youngsters attend a newly-built school named after a mother from the Midlands.

Hilary Emery was a special needs teacher who worked in Walsall and was so committed to helping disadvantaged children that, when she died from bowel cancer two years ago, her friends and family donated money to the African Oyster Trust.

Now the Hilary Emery Memorial Nursery School, in the town of Talinding, is a lasting testament to a woman who dedicated her life to helping youngsters.

Hilary was a student at the then Tynings Lane Secondary School in Aldridge when she met the man who was to become her husband.

She and Steve Emery became a couple in their late teens and married in 1980.

Hilary trained to be a primary school teacher while her husband became an accountant and now works for the bakery chain Greggs.

When the couple had their children Laura, now 26, and Matthew, now 22, Hilary turned her attention to youngsters with special needs.

Initially she was a member of the Disaffected Pupil Support Service for Walsall Education Authority where she taught excluded children in their homes.

And in 2002 she moved to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) at Field Road in Bloxwich where she was responsible for teaching Key Stage Two children.

It was a job she loved. "She would come home full of stories about the children she was teaching," said 56-year-old Steve. "She really cared about them."

But three years ago Hilary, known to her friends and family as Hil, became very ill.

"She started getting really tired," recalled Steve. "When she started falling asleep in the afternoons she went to see her doctor. They did all the tests and she was shown to be anaemic.

"Then in April 2008 she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

"They operated but they found the cancer had spread. She had courses of chemotherapy for about 18 months but it was too late to make any real difference."

Hilary and her colleagues at the PRU had been made redundant but still kept in touch with regular meetings. And she was determined to keep those friendships going.

"She organised a party when she found out she was terminally ill," said Steve.

Hilary died aged 54 in December 2009 but she had already made a decision to leave something behind.

"When my old boss at Greggs Alan Dick retired he started doing some voluntary work with a small charity called the African Oyster Trust," said Steve. "They were funding a school in Gambia and Hil was really interested in their work.

"It fitted with all the beliefs she had about helping underprivileged children. It was about education but the schools also offered health services so they were giving the children a lot of help.

"When her illness got worse she said she didn't want flowers at her funeral but wanted any donations to go to the Trust.

"My wife was a very caring person and had many friends so Streetly Crematorium was packed for her funeral."

In fact friends and family donated more than pounds 1,000 to the Trust - a substantial sum of money in Gambia. The donation was made and then, out of the blue, Steve received a telephone call.

"AOT called and asked if they could name the school after Hil. It is a fantastic memorial to her," he said.

The Hilary Emery Memorial Nursery School opened in September last year - and Steve attended the official launch.

Based in Henley-in-Arden, many of the Trust's board are from Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

"I spent a few days there seeing some of the projects the Trust was doing," said Steve.

"Then I saw the school and on the wall was its brightly coloured name, named after Hilary.

''There was a lump in my throat. Inside the children were wearing T-shirts with her name on and it was so moving. It was just a shame that Hil wasn't there to see it, she would have been over the moon."

Steve, his children, friends and Hilary's former colleagues have continued fundraising for the charity and have so far collected more than pounds 5,000.

"It is wonderful the school is named after Hil," he said. "It is such a memorial to her."

Hilary's former boss, Russell Pickston, aged 68, said her old workmates always made a donation to the AOT in Hilary's memory.

"After everyone was made redundant, Hil was really keen for everyone to stay in touch and she used to organise these reunions," he said. "That was what she was like.

"Now, whenever we meet up, we organise a collection for the Oyster Trust.

"Hil was a special person. She was dedicated to the children she cared for. She didn't just teach them, she cared for them, mentored them, inspired them.

"Even when she was ill she remained positive and enthusiastic.

She was dedicated to helping young people and the school is a really fitting tribute to her."

For more details see the www.africanoystertrust.co.uk website.

OUR SAY: PAGE 18

CAPTION(S):

Caring nature: West Midlands teacher Hilary Emery inspired friends to help poor children at a Gambian school, which was later named in her memory. Donations: The Hilary Emery Memorial Nursery School was opened in September last year.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:6GAMB
Date:Dec 27, 2011
Words:928
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