Thursday, February 23, 2006

Solemn trip to Africa requires financial, moral support

Dongan Hills woman and head of Island Liberian group
returning body of boy, 6, to homeland for burial

By Kiawana Rich, Advance Staff Writer

Patricia Lockhart is facing a sad journey to Liberia, one for which she needs both moral and financial support.

Six-year-old Boimah Cooper, whom Ms. Lockhart had rescued and hoped to adopt, is going to rest alongside his parents in his native soil.

The little boy whose indomitable smile won Staten Islanders' hearts died on Friday from complications of spinal surgery that was necessitated by debilitating tuberculosis.

Ms. Lockhart needs to raise $10,000 quickly to escort Boimah's body back to Liberia and is hoping Islanders can help.

Besides the expense of transporting the body, plane tickets are needed for Ms. Lockhart and her friend George Curtis, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association.

"The money would help a tremendous amount," said Ms. Lockhart. "We have to pay for funeral expenses and we have to live there for a week, and there are funeral expenses on the other side."

Ms. Lockhart had secured permission from Boimah's grandfather to bury him on Staten Island, where he had lived since July, and Fairview Cemetery in Castleton Corners had been willing to provide a plot and tombstone free of charge, and the grandfather would have come here for the funeral. But "the grandfather legally didn't meet the requirements for a visa," said Ms. Lockhart, so burial must be in Liberia.

The teacher and 2001 Advance Woman of Achievement expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support, including donations to date of $3,000.

"Staten Island is stepping up to the plate and people are just sort of calling me. .... Everyone has shown unity and concern and just opened up their hearts to me," she said.

Donations may be sent to the Staten Island Liberian Community Association Relief Fund, P.O. Box 61385, Staten Island, NY 10306. For more information, call Ms. Lockhart at (917) 445-7095.