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Fenland woman praises British diplomatic corps after she is helped to get home from Africa during Covid-19 lockdown

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A March woman who found herself trapped in Africa during the current coronavirus pandemic has praised embassy officials who helped her get home.

Sue Claydon, a Christian Aid volunteer, was on a personal trip to Kenya to visit her family there and to also visit some of the projects funded by churches in March and Wisbech through the annual Christian Aid week.

She said: "Most people in March and Fenland have never had experience of needing the help of a British Embassy or High Commission, but the work they do to help people abroad is invaluable and often goes unnoticed."

Sue Claydon and her husband John pictured with her Kenyan family during a visit to celebrate 50 years of being part of the Muntungi family. (32661839)
Sue Claydon and her husband John pictured with her Kenyan family during a visit to celebrate 50 years of being part of the Muntungi family. (32661839)

Sue has been visiting Kenya to stay with the Muntungi family since she first went to East Africa in 1969 as part of an initiative run by the US government aimed at broadening the experience of young Americans.

American-born Sue explained the experiment in inter living was set up in the 1930s because it was felt American young people were too isolated from the rest of the World. Initially it saw college-aged Americans living with European families as a son or daughter for up to six weeks. Sue was among the first to join a family in Kenya when the project was extended to Africa.

Ever since her first visit living with the Muntungi family as the adopted big sister to their five children Sue has kept in touch and celebrated 50 years of being part of the family last autumn, when she and her husband John visited for four weeks.

She had been in Africa for three weeks before the coronavirus outbreak and was due to fly home on Monday (30). However, as the first few cases of the virus started to be diagnosed Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta took immediate action, closing schools before they were even shut here in the UK, and announcing a ban on all flights from March 25.

Sue said: "The first case was of a woman returning from the United States, the second and third cases were from people returning home from Europe. The president closed schools a week before we did in the UK and all the universities and colleges and brought in strict measures including a curfew.

"When it got to eight cases Kenyatta announced on Sunday March 22 that he would be closing airports and banning all flights - of course a lot of airlines had already stopped flying.

"Having registered with the High Commission in Nairobi, I was getting regular travel updates, but this announcement brought grave concerns as I was scheduled to fly on March 30."

She immediately contacted the High Commission and was told a flight would be leaving Nairobi at 10am on Wednesday (25) just hours before the airport was due to close.

However, within an hour of the scheduled departure, and already at the gate waiting to board Sue was told the flight had been cancelled.

She returned to her Kenyan sister, Janet's home, and immediately contacted the High Commission again.

"It was gone midnight but I managed to get hold of a really helpful woman. She told me the British High Commissioner had managed to negotiate with the Kenyan government to allow British Airways to fly planes in and straight out to repatriate people to London. Thanks to the woman, who I only know as Valerie, I was able to book one of the last few seats on a flight. It was expensive because obviously the planes are flying out empty, but I managed to get home.

"Like most people I stand in both admiration and respect for all those dedicated people in our NHS, also those keeping our supermarkets and other services going at this uniquely difficult time. But I hope when this is all over, the women and men in our diplomatic corps will also be honoured for the service they have given British people around the world.

"It is tough to keep working at your post, especially knowing you are in a country that will have even less chance of coping with Covid 19 if it gets widespread. But their dedication is inspiring."

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