Seaton man wins MBE for helping underprivileged

PUBLISHED: 10:40 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 08:54 18 May 2015

Former fighter pilot Sqn Ldr Dick Bell is commended by The Queen for his work to help the poor

A 78-year-old Seaton man’s ongoing mission to help some of world’s poorest people has been recognised by The Queen.

Squadron Leader Dick Bell, a former RAF test pilot, was awarded the MBE in the New Year honours for his work for the underprivileged, especially in Nicaragua.

Speaking at his home in Harepath Road, last week, the self-confessed risk taker said he was a bit embarrassed to receive the honour.

“But if it is going to help the Christian work in Nicaragua, which I think it is, then I am very happy to accept it,” he told the Herald.

Born in Kenya, Squadron Leader Bell came to England, aged 13, for his secondary education, living with his aunt and uncle, Ralph and Phyllis White, in Musbury.

He left school to join the RAF and spent the first half a dozen years as a maritime pilot flying anti-submarine aircraft from both Malta and St Mawgan in Cornwall.

Later he became a flying instructor teaching cadets at Cranwell. While there he became the training command aerobatic champion winning the title in a Jet Provost in 1969.

He then went on the join Fighter Command and flew English Electric Lightnings for two tours before becoming a test pilot for the iconic jet plane.

After 20 years in the RAF, he left to join his wife-to-be Eileen at the Christian Conference Centre in Old Beer Road, Seaton.

“The Lord called me out of the air force to go Bible teaching which I did for 26 years,” he recalled.

During his time with the centre, he undertook expeditions to various parts of the world with Squadron Leader Mike Cole OBE of the Peace and Hope Trust. He piloted hovercraft to reach remote areas in countries like Papua New Guinea, China and Peru, helping deliver aid.

In 2000, he set up his own aid mission in Nicaragua - the Seed International Foundation Trust (SIFT) which still operates from Seaton. It works to help educate children and provide medical facilities on the island of Ometepe, funded by donations from the Christian Church.

He launched Palm Tree Associates – his latest venture - in 2010. A Christian Association, it works to encourage farmers on the island to grow their own fruit and vegetable to enhance the islanders’ daily diet of rice and beans, which fails to give them a sufficient range of nutrients.

Squadron Leader Bell visits Ometepe four times a year, providing fruit trees for the farmers to plant – 4,753 so far – and helping install wells, pumps and tanks on the dry side of the volcanic island. He has also helped to launch a wholesale business on the island so the produce can be properly distributed.

Describing himself as an innovator and Christian visionary, Squadron Leader Bell says he follows four basic steps to achieve his goals – initiative, develop, establish and delegate.

● Ometepe is a large island dominated by two volcanoes, one of them still active, sited in the middle of the huge Lake Nicaragua. It has a population of some 41,000. It is the poorest nation in mainland America.

Palm Tree Associates focus on developing the horticulture on the island to improve the diet of the inhabitants, to help with problems of malnutrition and to improve their standard of living.

To find out more about the work of Palm Tree Associates, and ways of helping its work, people can visit the website at www.palmtreeassociates.org.uk or e mail dickbellsift@gmail.com telephone 01297 23216.

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