Fundraisers brave waves for Forth for woman killed in Afghanistan

A TEAM of swimmers have braved the chilly waters of the Firth of Forth in order to raise funds in memory of an Edinburgh woman killed by a suicide bomber whilst working in Afghanistan.

Five members of Team Shebeen swam from North Queensferry to South Queensferry yesterday, raising hundreds of pounds in the process for Scottish veterans’ charity Erskine.

Those taking part included Ian Hudson, proprietor of South African-themed bar Shebeen in Leith and Daros Gray, David Macleod, Esti Shackleton and Lucas Yeats. The group decided to hold the event in memory of charity worker Jeni Ayris, 47, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan last month.

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Jeni, who was brought up in Cape Town, was well known and highly regarded amongst the city’s South African community.

She died alongside 11 fellow aviation workers after a lone female suicide bomber struck the minibus in which they were travelling near Kabul Airport.

The attack came as she was preparing to leave the war-torn country to return home to Edinburgh.

Her sister Pat and several friends all attended Sunday’s event to cheer on the five plucky swimmers who managed the feat in a time of one hour 40 minutes.

Event organiser Gavrielle Kirk-Cohen said: “It all went really well. The guys said that the water was freezing though and that they had to struggle with the current. They still managed it in a respectable time though.

“It was a really nice touch that Jeni’s sister Pat and her friends came down to lend their support. Jeni was well known amongst the city’s South African community.

“We now hope to make it an annual event held in her memory and we are also planning a range of other fund-raising events.

“As yet we haven’t reached a final figure as donations are still coming in but we hope to raise a few hundred pounds for Erskine.”

Ms Ayris, who was a popular figure in Tollcross where she once ran South African cafe and deli Ndebele, was described as the “hub” of the community after her death.

Hundreds of people posted tributes, memories and photographs on a Facebook page dedicated to her.

Speaking to the Evening News at the time, her sister Pat said: “Jeni was my best friend.

“The last time I saw Jeni was on a holiday in Paris back in April, when it came to an end she went back to Afghanistan.

“I was supposed to see her this weekend, as she was due to come home on Saturday. She died just one day before her handover was due to take place.”

Ms Ayris moved to Edinburgh 17 years ago and had British citizenship. She had been working in Afghanistan for just over a year, on a three-month-on one-month-off basis, as a customer relations manager for aviation firm Air Charter Services.

Her popular Leven Street cafe which she opened in 1997 provided South African favourites and once catered for Nelson Mandela during a Commonwealth Heads of Government conference.

In 1997, 1100 people signed a successful petition to keep the cafe open amid a planning wrangle.

Donations can still be made on the Team Shebeen Just Giving page, all money raised will go directly to Erskine.