Sean Devereux (1964-1993)
Sean Devereux, a 28-year-old aid worker was shot in the back in Somalia on January 2, 1993. He came from an Irish Catholic family and was a graduate of the Salesian College in Farnborough, UK.
One of Sean’s teachers, Fr Brian Jerstice, first knew him as “a chirpy, irrepressible 11-year-old with an impish sense of humor”, who showed “qualities of ready friendship, firm leadership and organizing ability” as he passed through the school. His leadership qualities were evident enough for him to be appointed school captain. His first job after college was as a physical education teacher at the Salesian School in Chertsey, England; from there he chose toecome a missionary when at the age of 24, help left for Africa to teach at the St Francis Salesian School in the remote area of Tappita, Liberia.
Here Sean came into contact once more with Father Jerstice, who recalls the “amazing relationship” that he developed with the 900 lively children at the school, as he organized sport and other activities. “He was clear-sighted and firm about their faults, but won everybody over with his cheerfulness and transparent dedication, seeming to belong to all” recalls Father jerstice.
In 1990 civil war came to Liberia, with massacres, destruction and widespread famine. Schools were closed. Sean joined the United Nations relief work, displaying energy and courage in highly dangerous situations. On one occasion he came into a frightening confrontation with the psychopathic rebel leader, Prince Johnson, when he pleaded with him to release one of his Tappita pupils who had been commandeered to be a child soldier. The boy had run to Sean in tears, begging for help. Sean had a lucky escape, but the boy’s fate remains unknown.
As well as working to alleviate basic physical needs of children in his care, Sean organized events for recreation, including a vast event in the National Stadium, as well as rehabilitation programs for released child-soldiers. However, at Zwedru, in the most depressed part of the country, he fell victim of the military again, his insistence on his rights earned him a beating and imprisonment.
After this incident Sean was restricted to Monrovia, but he missed the involvement in front-line field work and soon volunteered for the even more challenging area of Somalia where he joined UNICEF and became responsible for the huge relief operation of Kismayo. His work there has been highly praised, but he was also brave and outspoken, which in the end was probably what cost him his life. In a letter to his church community in Hampshire, UK, he wrote: “The gun dictates everything here . . . We pay through the nose at every stage to bring the donated relief items to the needy.”
Sean could not walk the short distance from his house to his office without first paying heavily armed bodyguards. “I get so frustrated and fed up”, he wrote, “when I have to deal with the authorities, the guards and the contractors. Their greed is sickening.”
Sean’s father, Dermot Devereux, recalls that his son would say about the risks he lived through, “While my heart beats I have to do what I think I can do — that is to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves”.
Above all Sean loved the children for whom he would all too soon give his life. . Many Sundays he would be on the beach with a carload of street kids, playing football, swimming or organizing long jumps.
He was able to increase the unloading of rice from 150 to 700 tons per day by getting local groups of lads to compete against each other. Sean believed that if young people were given pride and self-respect through doing something they could do well; they would not be tempted to give it up in favor of the gun.
In Liberia Sean organized a Peace and Unity Fun Run for 10,000 people, and a Sports Fun Day for 1,000 street children and war orphans. In Somalia he even managed to organize a football match between two warring factions, to the delight of 2,000 onlookers.
Sean’s life was tragically cut short but he was able to bring so much joy and comfort to many children who had to survive in the direst of circumstances. His life was short but in every way Sean was a true light in the darkness of war and conflict.