The impact of student volunteer innovation in rural communities
Written by Katie Innes.
Whether in a rural community or a bustling big city therein exists various social, economic and environmental challenges, each very different but all can be solved by drawing on the uniting factor of human innovation. Innovation requires dedication, ambition, financial and moral support as well of course a fresh perspective.
Bright Red Triangle brought us First Aid Africa charity and FAA Napier for a Changing Perceptions event aimed to promote student social entrepreneurship. The speakers showcased their efforts to improve emergency healthcare and pre-hospital care in rural areas of Southern and Eastern Africa, and their commitment to volunteer innovation and entrepreneurship. Leveraging the innovation and knowledge of students to build a better world for rural communities is one of their main aims.
First Aid Africa is a charity with humble beginnings. Established six years ago in one of Edinburgh’s own universities, Heriot Watt, where six students got together with a limited budget and a clear goal. In a very short period of time, this student society has become an international charity with more than 100k annual turnover that reaches thousands of people per year with their international first aid teaching expeditions.
A broad theme that run throughout the event can be summed up as ‘try, try and try again.’ Sam Abrahams, the charity’ CEO discussed the importance of encountering failure and its value toward success. Specific failures were credited as main learning opportunities that provided them with the necessary knowledge the organisation required to achieve key milestones.
It was emphasised that early engagement of students is very important to plant the seed of interest in volunteering and the value that student’ contributions can have on their career and on the third sector.
One particularly interesting example of First Aid Africa’s innovation is their work adapting pre-hospital care to mobile technology. As Sam noted, the availability of smartphones in their partnering communities has increased very quickly, to such an extent that it is very common for most adults to own one. For this reason, one of their current innovation project is centred around the use of this technology to address the issue of emergency response in these rural communities, and the development of a service to connect first aiders with people needing urgent medical assistance. This system is also capable of alerting nearby hospitals of the symptoms and injuries present in the patients, allowing them to prepare faster to help the incoming emergency.
The second speaker was Fidelma Beagan, a final year Edinburgh University biomedical science student who is the project leader for their Malawi initiative and director of the newly established social enterprise in the country. Her speech was honest and engaging, grasping the attention of the audience with abundant knowledge and clear enthusiasm for the charity and their work.
Her first expedition to Malawi was in 2015 where she showed great dedication and commitment by volunteering her extra traveling time to work on the office. During this time, Fidelma showed critical thinking and drive for positive that was greatly appreciated by the charity, earning her the Volunteer of the Year tittle that year’s AGM. She emphasized the importance of taking change in your own hands and taking an active role as a volunteer, using your voice to express when you want to suggest an improvement to a project.
‘What can I do to make it better?’ Indeed, not just complaining about an issue but asking what can be done, reframing the issue is paramount. After seeing how her voice was heard by the charities management, and how her suggestions were taken seriously, her passion and respect for the charity grew. She was given the opportunity to design her own project and some resources towards its realisation. You can hear her speak about her project here.
The last speaker was the engaging Emma Shields, an international volunteer and final year nursing student at Edinburgh Napier University. She received thorough teacher training and first aid training specific to the rural community in Tanzania where she went on expedition last summer. Prior to this she was anxious about speaking in front of large groups and had not experienced international volunteering before. She organised a successful clay pigeon shoot as part of fundraising before spending six weeks in Moshi, Tanzania.
It was clear that voluntary work has had a profound effect on not only her perspective on volunteering as a student but additionally has changed her perspective as a student nurse. During her expedition, she developed a further knowledge and awareness of accessible solutions to injury such as the use of a clean shirt or bedsheets to function as a bandage in the absence of a full first aid kit.
The event was a shining example of not only the creation of a successful charity organisation originating from the ideas of a small group of students but how through the course of the charities work they in turn are inspiring volunteers to change their perspective of the world around them and the impact they can have, however small this impact may seem. The key to all of this? Getting involved!