Hundreds of families have rallied round to support a beloved school caretaker in his desperate fight to remain in the UK.
Father-of-three Portas Ongondo, superintendent at Lady Hastings School in Collingham near Wetherby, is facing deportation to Kenya following the breakdown of his marriage.
But shocked members of the local community have vowed to do all they can to ensure he isn’t ripped away from the sons he adores and “families and children at the school, who think the world of him”.
Almost 400 people signed an online petition to back Mr Ongondo’s bid to stay in the country and around 150 parents, pupils and members of the local community turned out to Collingham and Linton Sports Association’s playing fields to demonstrate the depth of their support.
Parent Claire Strachan said: “He is the heart and soul of Lady Hastings, and we all want him to stay.”
Mr Ongondo, who has worked at the village school for five years, cannot bear to be parted from his three sons, saying: “Without them, existence will have no meaning.”
He added: “My life is around my sons. If I have to be somewhere where my sons are not, my life would be empty.”
Emmanuel, 19, Gerald, 22 and Sylvester, 25, are classed as adults and therefore not recognised as “dependents”.
But Mr Ongondo says they still rely on him for emotional, practical and financial support and guidance. The 55-year-old left a successful job with the United Nations in Kenya to came to the UK to support his wife who was working here as a nurse.
He has since supported his family, holding down a part-time job at the Mercure Hotel, Wetherby, in addition to his full-time role at the school. He qualified as a teacher in Kenya before working for the UN and adores his caretaking role, saying: “This is a job that’s geared towards helping children and that is my joy”.
But his right to live and work in the UK is dependent upon his relationship with his wife, which has recently broken down.
His application to stay has been refused and he has been denied permission to appeal.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the Immigration Rules.”
Mr Ongondo said being returned to Kenya meant little hope of finding a new job and with no family to support him it would be a bleak future and almost impossible for him to visit the UK to maintain his cherished relationship with his sons.
The local community is horrified by the Government’s moves to deport him and his campaign has been backed by the Reverend Stephen Thompson – from The King’s Church, Boston Spa – a witness for Portas at his appeal; along with local MP Alec Shelbrooke.
Siobhan Riley, whose eight-year-old son Oliver is a pupil at Lady Hastings, said: “He’s a hardworking pillar of the community, he has great relationships with the children at school and he looks after and supports his own children.
“It’s just wrong that they are trying to send him back.”
Mr Ongondo has been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he said despite the problems he faces he is “the richest man, having now been shown the level of love, respect and support that most people don’t see in a lifetime.”