Actually this is more a her-story. Jani inspired us and ironically, directly and indirectly has provided most of our funding.
1975 Jani was living on the Crossfields estate in Deptford and studying to be a teacher.
She became interested in the plight of very poor Third World countries through work with War on Want – she often ran the crèche at their events. She was particularly impressed when the Mozambican government after independence adopted the rights of the child into their constitution. The fact that this progressive step was taken by one of the world’s poorest countries struck Jani deeply and she set about obtaining support for the education system in Mozambique. In 1988 she formed the MERRY organisation, a group of pupils, friends and contacts who collected paper, pencils, compasses and other basic materials for use in Mozambican escolinhas. With the help of what seemed like every child in the neighbourhood, she collected 92,500 buttons, and used the project to open the eyes of children and teachers in her school and the wider community. All who helped were known as Merry-Makers.
The collected materials were parcelled into baskets, which were shipped to Mozambique for distribution to rural schools, and graduating teachers. In 1990, Jani went out see this distribution but as Mozambique was war-torn she was unable to leave Maputo and the baskets were distributed by Save the Children. While she was there she made contact with Radio Mozambique and recorded a tape of children’s music, which she brought back and distributed to the Merry Makers. Listen here (as soon as we can upload it) it’s good.
In 1998 Jani revisited a much calmer and more stable Mozambique with her partner Simon and was much encouraged by what she saw. As they travelled through the country, she became entranced by the culture and the use of music and dance, visiting the Casa Cultura in Maputo and Nampula. They reached Pemba in the northern province of Cabo Delgardo and immediately saw potential for a cultural centre there.
Jani never liked money and all the progress she made was achieved by enthusiasm, hard work and favours (often earned by persistence), so she had no need to formalise MERRY as a charity. However, she became ill and, once it was clear that she would not recover, she set about making financial arrangements including commuting her teacher’s pension and buying her flat from the council.
Jani died on 29th May 2001 and there was a wonderful funeral at St Nicholas Church in Deptford.
In 2002 Simon went back to Pemba, without Jani, to re-establish some contacts and explore the opportunities. [He wrote about his trip for the Spring 2002 edition of Inner Citizen and the article is reproduced here]
We opened bank accounts, transferred flat ownership, wrote letters and had community meetings and on 7th Jan 2003 the Charity Commission approved our objectives to work in Deptford and Mozambique and gave us formal charitable status.
As we’ve said, please let us have your ideas to expand, correct or edit this history. We’ll add more as soon as it’s written. Hopefully, we’ll end up with a complete record in tribute to a wonderful woman.