Rowan, Angie and Dave’s daughter, who lived in the Wing area, was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 3. The treatment involved a lot of intensive chemotherapy and she spent many months in hospital because of this and its consequences, such as infections.
Unfortunately, the treatment was not enough to cure her leukaemia, and she therefore had to have radiotherapy and a Bone Marrow Transplant at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, in December, 1994, just after her fifth birthday. This cured her leukaemia, but as a result of the treatment, for whatever reason, her lungs were damaged and over the next few years, she had increasing breathing problems. During this period, however Rowan became very keen on ponies and was delighted to have riding lessons and was given her first pony Buttons shown above.
Eventually, her lung problems became so severe that she had to go everywhere, including school, in a wheelchair and with a permanent oxygen supply. It was then obvious that the only way forward was for her to have a lung transplant, so after a long wait; Rowan had a heart and lung transplant, at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in May 2000. The transplant did not go smoothly and she was in hospital for another three months.
However, a week after she eventually came out of hospital, she went back to school and took her 11+ with her classmates. She successfully managed to be awarded a place at Aylesbury High School. She had always aimed for the opportunity to go to AHS, and was very proud of the fact that she had managed to achieve that aim and go with a lot of her best friends from her junior school. She started at AHS, in September, 2001 and loved every minute of it (except the swimming).
About a week before Christmas, just before the end of Rowan’s first term, she became ill overnight. She was taken to Stoke Mandeville Hospital early next morning, and from there to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Sadly, she never recovered and died on January 3rd, 2002.
The Rowan Varey Memorial Fund came about after Rowan’s death, in response to donations given by so many people who’d come into contact with Rowan during her life and who wanted to help sick or needy children in some way.
Where the money from the fund has been used so far
Initially money from the fund was mainly sent to children’s wards in the hospitals where Rowan had been a patient, however later donations were made to children’s organisations in Romania, Chernobyl and India.
We were also looking for a long term project to support and through contacts in Africa, we found a project in Uganda, where they were trying to build a boarding school for deaf children, orphaned mainly by Aids or war. We were able to make a first contribution in 2004 of nearly £3000, which meant that they could start to build the dormitory, and they could also afford basic equipment, such as beds and mattresses, plus they were even able to equip the school with pens, pencils, Braille books etc. The dormitory has now been completed and is in use following an opening ceremony towards the end of 2005, the girl’s wing has been named after Rowan. Since that time we have helped the school to develop, with new classrooms being built and large water storage tanks having been installed to prevent the children having to walk miles to the water well.
The school has now embarked on building a dining room and kitchen so that the children will have somewhere to cook and eat. During 2009 we sent another £3000 in order for them to start the new building project and we were able to see the start of the construction when we visited the school in February of this year. That was not nearly enough money to complete the construction and so we have now started to raise further money to send out with the aim to have that building completed as soon as possible.
Once that has been completed there are further requirements which range from an extension to the dormitory, more toilets, renewable energy supply for electricity and funding of teachers and equipment.
The school is becoming well known not only in Uganda, but also getting mentioned around Africa, as a model for helping children with disabilities who are normally treated as useless and ignored. We want to continue to support the school so that it will thrive and hopefully become a role model for other similar schools to be developed and copied.
During our trip to Uganda, we also visited a displaced village which had simply been moved off their land and the people had to totally rebuild their community elsewhere. We visited the ‘new’ school and met with everyone and entered one class about the same size as a UK classroom, except it had over 150 children in it. We have now intend to send smaller sums of money to that school in order to build a small accommodation block for some staff so that they do not have to travel miles on bicycles along dirt tracks to get to the school every day.
Every penny goes for the benefit of children. Nothing is taken by anyone involved for administration. We get quotations for all work to be done before sending the exact money and we have the local Action Aid officers and a local headmaster monitoring and reporting progress directly to us.