‘Hello again, my dear wife – it’s been a long 20 years…’

The story of how a Zimbabwean family reunited – after nearly two decades apart. Pythias Makonese tells his story.

It is not easy to sustain a marriage when the husband and wife live thousands of miles apart for almost two decades.

A lot marriages would collapsed under these circumstances. Somehow – thanks to the patience of my wife, Nomia, and the help of the Leicester branch of the British Red Cross – we managed to not only keep strong but to re-unite. This is our story.

Nomia Vongai Makonese, 58, a mother of five children landed at Heathrow airport, accompanied by her youngest daughter, Florence, 22, on December 5, 2020. I was there to meet them. At long last, we were together.

This is a story that goes back a long way.

After my teaching qualification, I started work as a teacher in 1978 at a primary school and taught for seven years before I got married. I married Nomia in a Civil Court at Mvuma, Zimbabwe in May 1985. We settled down and raised five children – one boy and four girls.

For 17 years, we lived together and looked after our family. I worked as a teacher. Life was good.

In 1980, there was a change of government in our country as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) took over from Rhodesian Front (R.F.) headed by Ian Douglas Smith.  

An opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, was formed in 1999 led by Morgen Tsvangirai. Most teachers were aligned to the opposition party and were considered enemies of the then-ruling ZANU. This is allowed in England. It’s the nature of politics in a democracy. It wasn’t in my home country.

Many teachers became political victims. The pressure was so great I felt I had to leave my job, my home, family and move to England. This was 2002 and I had been accused of supporting the MDC when I invited the local parliament (MDC) to an annual general meeting of a School Development Association. 

My story for fear of political persecution was not believed by the Home Office when I applied for refugee protection in the United Kingdom. It took 10 years for the UK to believe me, when I finally won my appeal case.

When I gained refuge protection, I used my news status to try to bring about a family reunion – to bring over my wife and my youngest daughter.

This was refused in 2018. But I was determined and appealed again. This time, I was successful.

Still, it took a whole year – red tape, forms, officials – before we could get the travel documents.

The date was set. April 4, 2020. They were all set to board the plane – and the flight was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.

The reunion was put back another eight months.

It was the end of a tough chapter for Nomia, raising the couple’s children single-handedly.

“I was just thrilled to meet my husband,” she said. ” I last met him in October 2002 back in Zimbabwe.”

Its as also a joyous day for Florence. “I was only four year old when my father left me and had only a faint idea on how he looks,” she said. “I am very happy to meet him and will be the happiest child on earth to stay with him unlike in the past when I used to talk to him over the phone.”

Florence is now 22, and aims to further her education, and hopes her siblings can join her one day.

It’s been a long and difficult process to get this far. But the lesson here is that no matter how tough it has been, people want to be with the ones they love the most.

If you have that – and the help of the Leicester branch of the Rad Cross – then anything is possible.

Art classes project provides therapeutic support in Leicester

by Cristina Olaru

A portrait artist has developed an art class project in Leicester, offering ‘a new way to socialise’ and relax through painting.

Ali Agayev, from Azerbaijan, the founder of Leicester Art Zone and member of Beyond Borders UK, has created, along with few volunteers, a place for relaxation through art, where anyone interested in learning to paint or improve their skill can join.

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Artist Ali Algayev drawing at British Museum in London (photo: Instagram page)

Leicester Art Zone is a non-profit organisation for artists and art lovers, launched in March 2014, with the main purpose to morally support everyone – in particular people in need of special care.

Artist Ali Agayev, 45, said: “Our aim is to look after elderly people, disabled people, to not let them stay at home, feeling down. We want to bring them here to enjoy the art and to relax. Many of them come here and paint and they forget their condition.”

Moreover, the artist expressed his genuine desire to bring Leicester Art Zone to an academic level, where individuals can learn the art of painting and drawing.

Artist Ali Agayev, said: “My aim is to see Leicester Art Zone as an art academy with a big gallery. Anyone who comes to Leicester has to visit us because this place will have beautiful paintings to inspire visitors.”

Ali’s passion for art emerged from the joy that he found in painting and drawing at the early stage of studying Electrical Engineering at Leicester College.

The artist said: “I found more joy in art than electronics. Then I felt in myself like a power saying I can make beautiful art and I followed this route.

“When I started many people laughed about me, about my drawings, but with the time they’ve seen I am getting there, I am getting better – and when I made Leicester Art Zone everybody again, was not supportive, but you see, I got a vision.

“I want to create beautiful things with Leicester Art Zone and thorough this project everybody to feel free to come and join, have a coffee, a laugh and paint together. I see it like a new way to socialise.

“Let’s go for a coffee and draw something!”

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Leicester Art Zone painting class (photo: Cristina Olaru)

Leicester Art Zone also organizes day trips to museums throughout England, history lessons about the art of painting, competitions, exhibitions and socialising evenings with DJ, food and drinks. During the week it offers a wide range of art classes, where anyone interested in art and its benefits can participate.

The art classes are designed for beginners too. Artists such as Olabayo Ishola, a De Montfort University PhD Data Privacy graduate, are volunteering to help eager art lovers to develop their painting skills.

Mr Ishola said: “I joined Leicester Art Zone about eight months ago just to have an extra-curricular activity to do away from my PhD, but after meeting Ali, getting to know him and seeing his passion to help people through art, I decided to volunteer as a manager and help achieve his goal.”

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DMU PhD graduate Olabayo Ishola (photo: Cristina Olaru)


Media students from De Montfort University had filmed and photographed one of the art classes for an engaging promo video coming soon for Leicester Art Zone.

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DMU Students Henry, Thomas and Ben (photo: Cristina Olaru)


Mr Agayev encouraged people to do what they love and to pursue it, because eventually it will happen by having the vision and working hard.

He said: “You will get there in couple of years’ time and you will benefit from it in five years’ time and then you will enjoy your life because you are doing what you love to do.”

More information about the project: http://leicesterartzone.org/about-us/

DMU students undress for charity calendar

The December entry (Photo: Kirsty Blackwell Photography)

By Cristina Olaru

Members of the Equestrian Society at De Montfort University have undressed for an annual charity calendar.

The Naked Charity Calendar, which has been in the running for five years, raises money to support the Riding for the Disabled Association.

The charity, which has Princess Anne as its President, helps people with disabilities from all over the UK. DMU students join the local branch each week to give a hand with the horse and pony therapies.

Henry Johnson (Picture: Cristina Olaru)

Calendar organiser, media student Henry Johnson, said: “Our society members go down there and help out with the horses and help out with the disabled people riding the horses. I think is great, sport is very therapeutic for anybody with disabilities, especially horse riding because the horse is an animal who gives back unconditional love.”

Despite the controversial approach of the calendar – a bit raunchy, he said – Henry proudly pointed out that they were thrilled with the sales so far.

The equestrian team created the calendar with the initial thought that it would be eye-catching and in this way, they would raise money more easily and also, because it genuinely fits with their society.

He said: “If we just did a normal calendar with few horses, then will be nothing special about it. We’ve done it black and white, with black underwear, we made it classy, so is not done in a distasteful manner, but is still the naked aspect which is a reason for people to buy it.”

The courage of the students attracted the attention of the Leicester Mercury, which published the Equestrian team’s decision to strip every year for the RDA.

Henry urged other students to consider charity work, saying that the best way to do it is by picking a charity that is close to you, that you can relate to, because it will make you work harder and motivate you more.

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The January entry (Photo: Kirsty Blackwell Photography)

For more information about how to buy a calendar, contact the society via its Twitter account @DMUEquestrian or  e-mail dmu.equestrianteam@gmail.com

Clothes sale set to raise over £500 for children’s cancer charity

By Alice Warner

A flashy clothes sale and a fun fashion show is set to take place on Thursday (Oct 11), to raise money for Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) to help young children and their families.

The fashion show will commence at 7.30pm at Fraser Noble Hall, University Road, Leicester, and the charity is expecting to see over 100 attendees at the event.


Stephen Humphries, Community Fundraiser at Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, said: “We have 17 volunteer models who have agreed to give two hours of their time to model a variety of high street fashion from stores such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Next and so on and so forth.

“The clothing for the sale is going to be discounted up to 75% of the sale price.”

All entry ticket sales will go directly to the charity and raffle tickets will also be on sale for £1 for five or 30p for one. The top raffle prize will be a seven-night stay at a destination of the winner’s choice from a selection of locations.

Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group is a national childhood cancer charity that works in connection with all of the childhood cancer treatment centres in the country.

The head office for the charity is at Leicester Royal Infirmary.


Stephen added: “What the charity does, it funds research into all childhood cancers and we reiterate that our long-term aim is to reduce the late effects that survivors can be the victim of.

“When someone goes through cancer at a young age, they may be in remission from two or three years old. Later in life they can have late effects as a result of their treatment because they went through treatment when their bodies were still developing.

“We fund and support research in reducing the number of late effects but increasing survival rates as well. In addition to that, we create a number of free information resources, such as story books tailored to children with cancer.”

Over the last 40 years, CCLG has played a key role in the major improvements in survival rates and the standards of care for children so that over 80% of children are now cured, but the charity receives absolutely no external funding and relies on its supporters.

Sainsbury’s, Bell Street, Wigston, have supported the event by giving a £45 raffle prize.

To find out more about the fashion show or the charity, click here.

Charities’ first dawn walk proves to be a big success

By Alice Warner 

Many men, women and children turned out to raise money and awareness for Leicestershire Advocacy for Mental Health Project (LAMP) last Sunday morning (June 3).

In association with the Co-op, the event started at 3am so that individuals could celebrate by watching the beautiful summer sunrise.


Sunrise at 4.45am

Participants walked in the footsteps of legends, in and around the Welford Road ground of the Leicester Tigers who had generously donated the use of the ground for the event.

Trevor Rigley, Co-op store manager and one of the organisers of LAMP’s dawn walk, said: “Into the light is about hope, it’s about challenging the stigma of mental health, it’s about involving communities in an idea that we can make a difference.

“Every day is a chance for a better life and what better way to celebrate than to watch the glorious sunrise and the transition from darkness into light.”

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Excited, Trevor tweeted the morning of the walk

Mary Morgan, head of fundraising and general superhero pulled out all the stops with many activities taking place during the event including a tombola, garden games , and of course given the hour, tea, coffee and refreshments.

Brent Sawyer, 30, from Leicester, said: “LAMP is a fantastic charity which I believe we all need to get involved with because it’s one of those charities where there is a stigma around it.

“Hopefully this morning will achieve more awareness around mental health because it is not spoken about often enough.”

Everyone managed to get to the ground in the early hours of the morning with great big smiles on their faces to celebrate together.


Participants after completing their 5K

Jodie Morgan, 29, from Leicester, volunteered to run the tombola and said: “I am volunteering this morning because I suffer with anxiety myself, so I wanted to help out for the charity that helped me and get the name out there.”

After the event, all participants were given goodie bags and went home full of hope and happiness.

Lamp work to promote good mental health for local people living in Leicester. Last year giving over 1,900 people a voice to be able to talk about their challenges. Lamp can be contacted by either calling 01162 556286 or via email at lamp@lampdirect.org.uk.

Responding to the event’s success, Trevor said: “If today has shown anything it is that we are stronger together, we have the biggest hearts and can challenge the stigma of mental health and accomplish anything we put our energy to.

“You are the true heroes of today. So, same again next year?”