Growing legacy around the world built on love of a special daughter

Lara Jones, from Goosnargh, who died while travelling in Cuba
Lara Jones, from Goosnargh, who died while travelling in Cuba

It was a humbling moment for Carolyn Rayner as she was addressed by officials at the opening of a second early childhood development centre in Tanzania funded by the foundation set-up in the memory of her daughter Lara.

A centre which has helped more than 200 vulnerable youngsters from the rural district of Tanzania into the classroom and provided with an early years education and English language teaching.

Carolyn Rayner with children from the Ndala early childhood development centre in Tanzania

Carolyn Rayner with children from the Ndala early childhood development centre in Tanzania

Carolyn, from Whittingham, was there to share and celebrate the special milestone with the community in Didia, Shinyanga. The near £30,000 donated for the project was raised through the activities of “Lara’s Foundation”, founded in April 2012, shortly after the death of her daughter Lara Jones, aged just 26.

The opening of the Didia centre was April 2016 and the second of the foundation’s building projects. The first in Ndala, Shinyanga, in northern Tanzania in 2014.

Sat among community elders, charity volunteers and representatives it was a chance for Carolyn to take stock of the impact Lara’s legacy has had on the African villages, where the last time she had visited, children were being taught in the dusty confines of a partially constructed marketplace. The support and funding has allowed youngsters, the majority of whom are HIV and Aids orphans, a chance of a better future and education without disadvantage.

The access to early education and better literacy skills has had a huge positive impact on the communities giving children under six years a safe environment in which to learn and provided with extra knowledge and skills in health and nutrition to improve their way of living. Today the two ECD centres and Pippi House in Arusha, which gives street girls a home and facilitates a return to education, are testament to the success of Lara’s Foundation. The centres work hard to provide an education to impoverished communities, while also helping to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and abuse.

Carolyn Rayner at the opening of the Didia early childhood development centre in April 2016

Carolyn Rayner at the opening of the Didia early childhood development centre in April 2016

It has not been a time for Carolyn to rest on her laurels but further motivation in her aspirations for the charitable incorporated organisation. A team of dedicated volunteers have helped massively with the fundraising effort, which to date has exceeded a total of £130,000.

Carolyn spoke of the continued commitment to Lara’s Foundation in a speech at the centre opening ceremony where she described Lara, as an ‘eternal source of energy and inspiration.’ It is this steely determination which saw Carolyn founding the foundation in the weeks after Lara’s death in Cuba, March 2012

Experienced traveller Lara, a linguistics graduate, had visited the country, after touring Mexico. She was murdered by a security guard working in the hostel she was staying, in the Cuban capital Havana.

Carolyn says: “Lara was a great communicator and organiser.

Carolyn Rayner founder of Lara's Foundation with one of the children of Ndala village in Tanzania

Carolyn Rayner founder of Lara's Foundation with one of the children of Ndala village in Tanzania

“In the many tributes from her friends she is referred to as the lynch pin who kept everything together and then they were left rudderless and bewildered wanting to do something but not knowing what. The idea of Lara’s Foundation came to me within a few weeks of Lara’s death

“I felt it was a way to allow Lara the opportunity to do some of the things I know she had wanted to do and would have done if her life had not been taken from her. It also was a way of supporting her young friends and of giving them a focus for their grief and I felt that Lara would expect me to look after them.”

Lara was the youngest of Carolyn’s three daughters and grew up in Goosnargh, near Preston, first attending St Francis Catholic Primary School before moving to Westholme School for girls in Blackburn. At 18 she moved to London and graduated in linguistics at University College London then working as a teacher at EC London English Language School.

In 2011 she completed the university’s highly regarded DELTA programme (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), earning a distinction for her innovative approach to teaching. It was her passion for her work and travel which took her across the world. She spoke Spanish and Portuguese and travelled extensively through Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile.

Carolyn adds: “She had a tireless passion for her work, a warm fun teaching style, and a deep compassion for the cultural and language difficulties facing foreign students.

“Lara’s Foundation was established so that the dedication and kindness Lara showed to her students will continue to reach others.

“To me, she was the youngest of my three daughters and we shared so many interests. We had been together in Baja California experiencing the Blue Whale migration just a week before she left us. Losing her at the age of just 26 seemed unfathomably unfair. “Lara had many talents. She was an accomplished skier, and had reached the highest grades in music theory, piano and singing.

“During university term time she worked as a voluntary assistant teacher at South Camden Community School where she organised and accompanied groups of sixth formers on trips around London.

“She had so much enthusiasm and energy that it seemed impossible that her life could have come to such an abrupt and unpredictable end.”

Carolyn says it the great affinity Lara built for the people she met on her travels which inspires the foundation. Joining forces with Raleigh International and Save the Children, the foundation set out to raise the money to help fund the educational programmes.

She adds: “Lara had a few groups of friends from school, university, travelling and work. Because of the foundation all these friends have come together and links been created. The common denominator is Lara. A travelling friend moved into a flat with Lara’s school friends. A university friend moved in with a school friend and a school friend is marrying a friend of one of Lara’s travel friends…so she continues to forge relationships.”

Looking forward and 2017 looks to be another exciting one for the organisation. Having partnered with Nairobi based charity DADREG – Dandora Dumpsite Rehabilitation Group - work is underway for the opening of a third ECD centre in the Kenyan capital.

The Dandora dumpsite is the largest in eastern and central Africa, more than 10,000 people scavenge there, 55 per cent of those found there are women and children. Working with the foundation the plan is for the learning centre to serve children between two and six years of age. The charity helps to run training sessions for mothers working in the dumpsite and it is hoped the new space will provide for the children to stay and get an education and play whilst their parents are training.

Carolyn says: “Our funding of this centre has been made possible by the outstanding fundraising efforts of Lara’s family and friends who have run marathons, completed triathlons, cycled coast to coast, swum lakes, hurled themselves over assault courses ...all to raise funds for Lara and her foundation.”

Carolyn has spoken of her pride and happiness at the love and loyalty demonstrated by so many in the bid to keep Lara’s memory alive.

Communities across the world are now sharing her vision and in a speech given by the chief ward officer at the opening of the Didia centre, he echoed the sentiments

“I assure you Lara didn’t die- that is why we’re here with you, with these living projects putting or keeping milestones for the children’s care.

“Lara will live and be remembered forever.”

www.larasfoundation.co.uk/