The line between complete disaster and, actually, OK

13th May 2011 at 01:00
Inspired by amputee Olivia Giles, Kemnay Academy pupils raised funds for prosthetics in Africa.

The north-east coast is shrouded in a sea mist but, driving inland, the grey fog clears and golfers are in good spirits under blue skies at Kemnay Golf Club in Aberdeenshire.

It's the first day back after the holidays for Kemnay Academy pupils, and fifth and sixth-years on the senior charity committee have had to hit the ground running for this charity golf match.

The experience will be particularly valuable for head girl Emma Grant, 17, who will do events management at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen after the summer. "I just like organising things," she says.

Today, Emma is looking after teams of players, sorting out auction items and helping to deal with any last-minute hitches. Everything seems to be going like clockwork and she is chatting with Olivia Giles, founder of the Scottish charity 500 Miles, which will benefit from the school's fundraising.

Olivia was a busy young lawyer when she became ill nearly 10 years ago. "I lost my hands and my feet in February 2002 because I contracted meningococcal septicaemia, which is the blood-poisoning form of meningitis. I was a commercial lawyer and, basically, I was at my desk one day and in a coma in intensive care the next.

"But I recovered quite miraculously and spent about nine months in hospital being rehabilitated. The real watershed of that time was being fitted with my artificial legs and learning to walk. It was the dividing line between - `This is a complete disaster' to `Actually, this is OK after all'," says Olivia, sitting in the golf clubhouse.

Gratitude for the care she got from the NHS later prompted her to reflect on how different things would have been without that support. "Around 2006, it started to filter through to me that if this had happened to me in a poor country, in Africa, I would be dead," Olivia explains.

She began to investigate the provision of prostheses and orthoses for child and adult amputees and other disabled people in some of the poorest countries in the world. Prostheses are devices that replace missing body parts and orthoses are supports for body parts that don't function properly.

"After a bit of research, I discovered the greatest unmet need in peaceful countries was in sub-Saharan Africa. I chose Malawi to begin with, because of existing Scottish links with Malawi; and Zambia because it's next door to Malawi and because I made a strong connection very early on with a couple of projects there," says Olivia.

The Edinburgh-based charity provides prosthetic and orthotic treatment for adults and children and trains technicians to fit them. The first 500 Miles clinic opened in Malawi in 2009, working with the Malawi government and, in Zambia, the charity supports an existing prosthetic and orthotic workshop.

Cash raised today will help train Elvas, a teenager from Malawi, to be a prosthetist. Kemnay pupils have been corresponding with Elvas, who was worried she could not afford a stamp to reply, until Olivia reassured her.

Scottish schools, such as Edinburgh's Balerno High and Bonaly Primary, have also made significant contributions to 500 Miles. Bonaly donated pound;10,000 from events staged by parents and pupils over a year.

At Kemnay Academy, depute head Fran Jones has been a driving force since hearing about 500 Miles during an in-service day 18 months ago. "Olivia is just inspirational," she says.

"Part of our money is going to provide prosthetic limbs at the centre in Malawi, but also we identified a young Malawi student with whom we have been in communication and she is training to be one of the technicians. So we are helping with the funding of her training. I think it is positive to have an educational side to our fundraising as well as helping the people."

Charity challenge

Kemnay Academy's venture is one of six charitable projects run at schools across the north east as part of the Jasmine Charity Challenge, a private sector initiative sponsored by Danny Cowie of Jasmine Holdings.

The company provides a pound;100 start-up budget for each student team and matches the first pound;1,000 raised by each school. All the teams have to present their fundraising ideas to a panel of business professionals at the start of the year.

At the end of the session, the Jasmine Charity Challenge Awards celebrate the achievements of the participating schools.

"For everything they do, they are effective contributors - this is about social responsibility. They have to be organised and do the planning," says Kemnay Academy's depute head, Fran Jones, as the first of 24 teams tees off at Kemnay Golf Club. This is one of several events the school will organise for the charity over this year and they hope to raise more than pound;7,000.

Other Jasmine Challenge schools

- St Machar Academy in aid of CLAN (Cancer Link Aberdeen North)

- Kincorth Academy for Peruvian Children's charity the Vine Trust

- Westhill Academy on behalf of CLIC Sargent

- Portlethen Academy for Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital

- Gordon Schools, Huntly, for Grampian Children's Cancer Research Fund.


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