Ex-teachers and refugees enjoy lunch

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Loc and Thuy with teachers Hester Whittle and Sue Ecclestone

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MANY people will remember the Ockenden Venture, a charity established in Woking by school teachers Joyce Pearce, Ruth Hicks and Margaret Dixon, writes Sue Ecclestone, a retired teacher once of Woolmer Hill School in Haslemere.

For 50 years Ockenden helped refugees from many countries, but is perhaps best known for its resettlement in Britain of Vietnamese refugees escaping the communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s.

Two retired teachers, myself and Hester Whittle, have kept in touch with two of the Vietnamese refugees who went to Woolmer Hill School while living in Keffolds, Bunch Lane, in the 1980s.

Loc had travelled to England by boat and had no English at all. He was sent first to a school in north Wales to learn English.

He said: "It was hopeless. They kept talking to me in Welsh and I had no idea what they were saying."

Loc has fond memories of being sent to Keffolds, where he was looked after kindly and sent to Woolmer Hill School.

"School was hard because my English was so poor, so following classes in geography and history was extremely difficult," he said.

Luckily Loc found he had an aptitude for cookery and would make dishes which looked exceptionally well-presented - despite naughty boys in the class trying to sabotage his work.

After leaving Woolmer Hill School he went to catering college and from there has made a very successful career for himself.

He married a Chinese girl and they have three beautiful daughters, all of whom have been to university.

Thuy had a different introduction to England.

She says she was lucky.

Suffering from a disability caused by catching polio as a baby, she was thrown into a dustbin by her Vietnamese family.

Her luck was that she was found and put on to a plane taking disabled refugees to England.

And her luck continued when she was not on one of three planes which crashed on its way to England with no survivors.

She also talks fondly of Keffolds, where she was well looked after and sent to Woolmer Hill School.

Now in her mid-50s and with difficulty walking because of her disability, she still maintains she is the lucky one as she has somewhere to live and somewhere to work.

During lunch together the two former Woolmer Hill teachers and the two Vietnamese former pupils talked about the interesting lives they had had.

Among Loc’s many catering jobs he has worked for the King of Greece, and unlike some who have found working through Covid times extremely difficult he has always been in employment.

When Thuy left for the station and the train home she departed happily, and on arriving at Haslemere station was treated to a wheelchair and two station staff to help her on to her train.

She would not accept sympathy because she is the lucky one.

Loc set off in his smart silver car with the number plate including 007, given to him by a grateful employer.

The two teachers were left in wonderment at what Ockenden had achieved through the charity.

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