Hundreds of children bid a tearful goodbye to their beloved caretaker who has lost his battle to remain in the UK.
Staff at Collingham Lady Elizabeth Hastings CE Primary School held a special assembly yesterday to pay tribute to hardworking colleague Portas Ongondo, who had worked there for six years.
Pupils returning to their classrooms for the autumn term were upset to find the caring character was no longer a feature of their school lives.
The dedicated worker, whose commitment to the school “far exceeded the role of caretaker”, was told during the summer break he could no longer live and work in the UK following the breakdown of his marriage.
And while delighted to be reunited with him yesterday, the children were heartbroken to learn that this was to be their final farewell before he returns to Kenya.
The Government’s decision means he must leave his three grown-up sons behind in the UK.
The 55-year-old said: “It was a very very good assembly with a lot of love and a lot of affection.
“It was a beautiful assembly and an assembly that was difficult to hold together but we managed it.”
Mr Ongondo, who has lived in the UK since 2006 and hopes to fight to return to the UK once he arrives in Kenya, was gifted handmade cards, kind words and was serenaded by pupils. He said: “That is the treasure I have, the beautiful and precious thing, and the love and care they have shown me is an encouragement for anything I do in the future.”
Helen Browne, whose children William and Emily are both pupils, said the eight and six-year-old were “extremely upset and confused” by his departure.
She said: “His commitment to the job has been quite touching.
“He has befriended the children, telling them different stories about where he’s come from and the experiences he has had that our children have never been able to because our community is so different to what he was used to back in Kenya. I think that has been really beneficial for the children.”
Pupils, parents and members of the local community fought a determined campaign, gathering more than 1,000 signatures on a petition supporting Mr Ongondo’s right to stay.
When that failed, supporters launched a fundraising campaign to help him pay for his journey home and establish a new life there once he arrives.
They have so far raised more than £1,250. Donations are still needed and can be handed in sealed envelopes to the reception at Lady Hastings School in Collingham.
MUCH LOVE FOR MR ONGONDO
Among the 1,025 signatures on the web petition to keep Portas Ongondo in the UK were dozens of messages of support:
Lucy Mawer: “It would be a travesty to justice if Portas was sent back.”
Joe Nyantika: “He’s a hardworking person who’s loved and highly valued by the community.”
Holly Heyes: “The school are very lucky to have such a caring and dedicated man.”
Kate H: “He is lovely and always smiling. I hope you can stay.”
Guest: “Ridiculous. Poor man.”