Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Friend in Need...

A few months back we went on holidays and other than checking Facebook and Twitter occasionally I didn't keep up with any news at all. It was nice to be ignorant for a while. I did notice my friend Claire kept refering to 'Sharon' and hoping she was well. For some unknown reason I figured that Sharon must be a cousin of Claire's and must be sick. A few weeks went by and still there was the odd referral to Sharon and hoping for good news. Oh dear, I thought, Sharon must be pretty unwell. And that was it, the full extent of my concern.

Back at home I spent a bit more time online and through some random surfing ended up at Random Irish News about to read an article about an Irish charity worker kidnapped in Darfur. I nearly fell off the chair before I got through the headline as I knew the girl in the picture. She'd been in school with me and her name is Sharon. Suddenly all of Claire's references to Sharon made sense. It was three weeks after the kidnapping.

Sharon was working for GOAL, a development agency set up by a former sports journalist, John O'Shea. Sharon had been in Darfur for eighteen months when the GOAL compound was raided and she and co-worker Hilda Kawuki from Uganda were kidnapped at gunpoint on the 3rd of July.

Since then over a hundred days have passed and Sharon has celebrated her birthday in captivity. The kidnappers demanded a ransom and the Sudanese government have refused to pay as it would endanger the lives of other aid workers in the region. There were rumours that Sharon and Hilda would be released at the end of Ramadan but they were false. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has travelled to Sudan and there is an Irish delegation in the region trying to secure the release of the two women. Sharon has been allowed to phone her family a few times. School friends have set up the Facebook page Freedom for Sharon.

This week a mass was celebrated in Sharon's parish church of St Gabriel's in Clontarf and an ecumenical service was held in the ProCathedral in Dublin. But there is still no sign of the women being released. And as time goes on, it becomes easier for people to forget.

I think about Sharon a lot these days, far more than in the intervening ten years since school finished I'll be honest. I keep wondering what I can do and I can't come up with any answers. But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying to find something more I can do.

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