5 December is International Volunteering Day, and a chance for CMNH to focus on the important role volunteers play in delivering its research implementation in countries throughout the world.
A number of CMNH staff have volunteered throughout their careers and share their stories here:
Qualifying as a midwife in 1988, Terry Kana worked for 2 years in the NHS. After hearing a talk about volunteering in India, Terry applied to volunteer with VSO and was posted to Nepal. Her role as a public health nurse in Rasuwa District in Langtang National Park area involved visiting some of the remotest villages to provide health care to mothers and babies and to support the Nepalese health care workers. Though she lived in a 1-bedroom bungalow without running water and electricity and with just a mud stove to cook on, the rewarding work, magnificent views and living in such a close community meant that Terry extended her placement twice. Following Nepal Terry then volunteered for a very different type of posting with MERLIN in Grozny during the Chechnya war where she again worked as a public health nurse.
Looking back on her time as a volunteer Terry says that being part of a community and the challenge of using all her skills to work with minimal resources in a compromised health system was challenging but also on of the most rewarding jobs she has ever done.
Though there may be many differences between health care in the UK and the countries she has worked in, there are also many similarities such as the vital, and often unacknowledged, role that nurses and midwives play in keeping health services running and saving the lives of women and babies.
Terry now works as a Senior Research Associate in the Centre for Maternal and newborn health at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine specialising in emergency obstetric and newborn care. Terry continues to use the knowledge and skills she gained as a volunteer to develop training programmes for health care workers and help improve maternal and newborn health in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
As a Senior Research Associate for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Susan Jones runs programmes on training healthcare workers to reduce maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. It’s not the typical career path of someone who had started out in nursing- but Susan credits her position to the experience gained from being a volunteer in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and India.
Susan wanted to do voluntary work as soon as she qualified as a nurse but felt that she needed more experience so that she had something to offer. Susan has volunteered as a nurse educator in Bangladesh with IUBAT and in Sierra Leone with VSO and as head nurse in India with Calcutta Rescue.
Reflecting on her experiences Susan says “Volunteering has impacted on my life a lot. I was bored in my job before. Volunteering was a happy time for me and I realised I needed to carry on with what I was good at. It set me off in my career in development work. Now I’m at the Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health (CMNH) at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and I am sure I wouldn’t be here if I had not gained experience as a volunteer. My work at CMNH lets me travel back to Sierra Leone where I can still use my knowledge and experience to implement programmes to improve maternal and newborn health.
I would recommend volunteering; but think about what you can offer to those you will be working with; you will be a stranger to the country so make sure you are useful. Any volunteer has to work hard to make their placement work and make that partnership with people in the country. It can be life changing both for the community and yourself. Go for it.”
Hauwa Mohammed started her career as a medical doctor in Nigeria and despite planning to work in general medicine, at the start of her clinical training she found the immediate impact she could have on women’s health by providing good maternity care more rewarding. Hauwa’s first experience of being a volunteer came after her 12-month internship. She completed the one year volunteering which is compulsory for all young people in Nigeria, using her medical skills in an accident and emergency department.
As her career has progressed Hauwa became more interested in how health care services can work with communities to try and improve health. She completed a Diploma in Sexual and Reproductive Health followed by a Master’s in international Public Health (Sexual and Reproductive Health) at LSTM.
After completing her Master’s degree Hauwa returned to Nigeria and began volunteering with LSTM to teach emergency obstetric care to health care workers. One of the most surprising things volunteering has shown Hauwa is how good she is at teaching and how much she enjoys it. Hauwa continues to see the impact of her volunteering in Nigeria through her continued contacts with those she has taught.
Hauwa currently works as a Senior Technical Officer with CMNH in Nigeria. The volunteer has now become the trainer, implementing CMNH training programmes and continuing to develop the skills of health care workers to save the lives of mothers and babies.
Below are some further links on how volunteering has shaped the work of CMNH, as well as information on Volunteer Services Overseas and how you can get involved