Belfast Telegraph

Stuart’s got the X factor

Farmer’s Balkan peace efforts a true inspiration as they earn him place in semi-final line-up

By John McGurk

Co Antrim farmer Stuart Graham’s tireless charity work in war-ravaged Eastern Europe has made him our 10th and final Flybe/Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland heat winner.

The Crumlin man and his wife Ann set up a mission called Church Growth Croatia and Bosnia nearly 16 years ago.

From his first trip, accompanying an aid lorry in January 1993, Stuart and fellow CGCB volunteers have gone on to provide desperately needed help for countless projects in the troubled region, scarred by years of horrific ethnic conflict.

Just last month Stuart travelled to a small village near the Bosnian town of Vitez to see the changes his charity has helped to bring about.

Explained Stuart: “The water pipes for the village school, which has 220 pupils, had been damaged during the war.

“We made £10,000 available to renew the pipe. That represented 75 per cent of the total cost, with 25 per cent community contribution to the project.

“One of the principles of our charity is to ask people, ‘How can we help you?’, because we want to help local people to help themselves.”

||Another project masterminded by Stuart includes the provision of chickens to villages, such as Ahmici — once the scene of a notorious atrocity where more than 100 elderly and very young Muslims were murdered.

And close to Stuart’s heart are plans to provide thousands of Bibles, translated into the Bosniak language within two years.

Speaking about his nomination and heat-winning success, Stuart said: “It is absolutely incredible and it is such a compliment for all of the people involved in the charity working out of Northern Ireland.”

When contacted by Sunday Life last ||week, Stuart was campaigning for his local community; meeting with Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie as part of a Crumlin Together delegation.

His nominator, stepson Richard Perrin, highlighted Stuart’s huge-hearted efforts for people at home and abroad.

Richard said: “Stuart is a wonderful man who has dedicated much of the past 16 years helping people rebuild their lives in war torn Bosnia and Croatia.

“He has also given people involved in community-based projects hope and friendship within Northern Ireland .

“Until recently he has done this while still working full-time. He always puts others before himself and deserves some recognition for it.” Stuart is one of 10 heat winners, who will be joined by the next 10 nominees with the highest number of runners-up votes, in the Flybe/Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland semi-finals.

Their heart warming stories of personal courage and dedication to helping others will be featured again in Sunday Life on December 28 and January 4, when the semi-final vote begins.

Out of these top 20 nominees, the public will be asked to vote for their final top 10 when the voting lines re-open next Sunday, December 28, remaining open until midnight on Monday January 5.

The Flybe/Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards’ ceremony will be hosted by UTV’s Julian Simmons and a top soap star at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast, on January 20.

A panel of judges will then choose the overall Flybe/Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland winner, who will receive a brand new Peugeot 107 car as their prize.

The person who nominated the overall winner will win a pair of Flybe flight tickets.