As a mother I wanted to thank the NHS with my actions, rather than my words

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Veronika Dutfield-Valeckova, Biomedical Science Student, wanted to thank the NHS through volunteering and has surpassed her won expectations

I felt that as a mother of 2 children with extensive needs, this was my opportunity to give back to our wonderful NHS. My two children have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I’ve been so privileged to be able to access NHS support, it was important to me to be able to thank with my actions, rather than my words. So many people have become isolated or bereaved during the past 2 years, and often they’ve had no other human contact than with me and my colleagues from the Royal Voluntary Service. For some it has become a lifeline and a connection to the outside world, and I feel pride as well as feeling privileged to have been allowed to make someone else smile. 

First Aid Response 

I’ve logged over 1000 hours since March 2020. I am available to respond to an emergency by the service users, and oftentimes get to a patient before the emergency services. As I am CPR and defibrillator trained, as well as carrying Pulse Oxymeter, I can monitor patients vital signs and administer CPR, if the situation requires it. I feel that at times, the emergency response has been vital for both patients as well as the services, given how stretched the emergency services are. I was able to provide a little bit of comfort to patients waiting for medically trained staff, whilst ensuring patients were safe. 

Community Support 

I’ve been driving vulnerable patients to and from medical appointments as well as collecting prescriptions, food shopping and dog walking for those who can’t leave the house. At my local health centre I’ve been helping with admin duties and making welfare checks by phone with vulnerable adults as well as patient monitoring during the vaccination programme delivery.  

Friendship 

Volunteering has allowed me to form new friendships, be it with the service users or my colleagues. I’ve been able to establish a support network that stretches further than the realms of my immediate community, which I’ve felt has played an intrinsic part in the success of the service delivery and service users experience. It has brought the wider community closer and with some patients, it has restored their faith in humanity and kindness, when they’ve felt like there was none. I have been incredibly privileged to play a part of a wonderful team who give up their spare time to others, and this has been such a wonderful experience that has helped my mental health and confidence like nothing else could have done. 

Learning 

I’ve learnt how to calm a distressed patient. I’ve learnt to communicate at many different levels due to patients’ different requirements and capabilities. I was able to build a strong foundation for trusting my instincts and judgement when arriving at the scene of an emergency. I’ve learnt just how powerful the ability to listen is, and how much of a difference it makes to the person who’s being listened to.  

Looking Forward 

I am still volunteering with the service, and on top of that, I have set up a community hub that feeds into a national volunteering group called The Golden Hearted UK. This hub provides crisis food parcels to people whilst they await approval for food bank access. This has proved to be an invaluable service to many. My close friend and I fundraise to provide the emergency food parcels. We are currently in the process of applying for a charity status, as we both feel, this would give us the opportunity to access more community grants, which would allow us to reach more people in desperate need. 

How my degree will take me from volunteer to qualified medic on refugee border crossings

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Lily Stephenson. Paramedic Science student, tells her volunteering journey

I became a student paramedic after working with volunteer medics on the shores of Greece at emergency boat landings. I spent five years volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers trapped at the borders in Greece, Lebanon, Serbia, Italy and France before returning to Bristol to study. I decided to help out with a local project which supported refugees; I felt that I would have a good understanding of the dangerous journeys they may have experienced to get here and wanted to help with integration.

I started volunteering at ‘Welcome Wednesdays Extra’ once a week in the middle of the lockdown. It is a well established project, run by Creative Youth Network, that supports newly arrived young asylum seekers and refugees. Most of the participants are between 15-19 and live in emergency homeless shelters or foster care.

The sessions offer a chance to meet other young people, practice English, play games, do art and crafts, cook and eat nutritious food and access a lawyer. I learnt Arabic in Lebanon so I help with translation which enables the young people to access the service and feel welcome. Generally I support the participants emotionally, encourage them to make use of the space and make friends, organise activities and games and help with special events such as the Eid feast and the Christmas party.

Many young people arrive traumatized and unable to trust people, but gradually we build relationships and I help them feel safe and connected in the UK.
Sharing with staff my experience and understanding of refugee issues enabled staff to treat the young people in a trauma-informed way to understand their behaviour. I brought culturally appropriate ideas to the group with an understanding of their needs and the importance of keeping a connection with their home. Many arrived during lockdown so we tried to reduce social isolation and help them stay positive. The young people grew in confidence and this impacted their ability to become independent and manage their lives.

I have learnt many things from the amazing young people who attend the session. They inspire me everyday with their resilience and strength. Many of them are unaccompanied, living in terrible accommodation, homesick and traumatized, yet manage to stay positive. They are so dedicated to education that it reminds me how lucky I am to be at university in a safe country.

The young people have also taught me how to play pool and table tennis (although they still win every time!). I have learnt traditional Afghan dancing (although I am very bad at it!). I have learnt about the rich culture and diversity of Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and other countries, and also the terrible atrocities people have lived through.

I learnt about the challenges and opportunities for newly arrived refugees in Bristol. I felt proud to be part of a community that supports refugees and advocates for vulnerable young people. I have learnt about referral routes and helped to signpost onward to other services.

I built my confidence in speaking Arabic and now see how useful it can be in Bristol. I helped send texts in Arabic to new participants and ensured documents were accessible in numerous languages. I even learnt some Pashtu from playing board games!

I organised new activities such as card making, herbal medicine making and badge making. This improved my group work and leadership skills. I discussed with my manager the need for staff training surrounding asylum law and services for refugees in Bristol, which was then organised. I hope this improved the service for young people.

I am hoping to start doing 1-1 work with one of the most vulnerable participants who I built rapport with. He speaks Arabic and needs extra help with his mental health and well being. I hope to carry on volunteering there for the duration of my course, and return to Lebanon when I qualify to work on the Syrian border as a medic supporting the refugee community.

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