FEATURE: I’ve waited 27 years for this
A wheelchair user from Framlingham is set to make a return to an African village to pass on some of his 30 years’ experience in carpentry — 27 years after his first visit there as a volunteer.
Suffering with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a progressive neurological condition, Ian Holt, 50, has also endured 16 operations as a result of enjoying motorcycles and working in the building trade.
Mr Holt first went out to Sierra Leone in 1989 after applying through the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas).
Now nearly three decades on, the Framlingham resident will return to impart his wealth of knowledge in woodwork, carpentry and gardening in February.
He said he was always wanted to go back, but civil war, operations, and the Ebola outbreak meant it was not possible.
“I worked there 27 years ago as a fit, young, man,” he said.
I physically can’t do the work now — but I’ve got 30 years’ experience. So why not teach
“I had the best time of my life. I was more content there than I have ever been.
“I was 23 at the time , it was brilliant.
“It’s something I’ve waited for, for 27 years.
“I can’t stand the western culture, I really can’t.
“In Africa they look at you for the age and wisdom of the person, not the wheels that are under them.
“In this country I can’t even get a job.
“I’m not one for sitting around and doing nothing.
“So on a scale of one to ten, of how much I am looking forward to going, it’s 52!”
His skills are evident all around his home. Cabinets in the living room, standing aids on the walls and even his bedstead was self-made.
Pointing to a table in his front room, he explains: “I made this with one leg, a broken back, and one arm.”
Mr Holt said he cannot recall how he stumbled across his talent, although he admits he would fix things around the home as a youngster.
“Someone would say ‘how did you do that?’ I would say ‘I don’t know’. To me, it was just obvious.”
He left school with no qualifications — although he was top of the class in woodwork — and soon started a three-year apprenticeship, as well as becoming City and Guilds trained in carpentry.
His work took him across many continents — from America to Africa and Asia.
“I took my skills around the world,” he explained.“When I got back to the UK (following a stint of work in the United States as a 21-year-old), I realised how much I had learned.
“I thought ‘continue with this’ and that’s when I jumped on the VSO bandwagon. After Africa I realised I had learned a whole new culture — and had left a little bit of woodwork behind.”
Mr Holt said his first trip to Sierra Leone was for his own personal enjoyment — but says this one will be different.
“It wasn’t until later in life that I realised what I had learned and how much I had left behind, but I didn’t at the time.
“Youth is a wonderful thing, but wisdom is equally important and they don’t run together.
“I’m so proud that I’m doing it under these conditions.
“I physically can’t do the work now — but I’ve got 30 years’ experience. So why not teach?
“I have all this experience — to let it fade away is just crazy. Let somebody else have the privilege of my experience.”