Drawing parallels of disability

A VOLUNTEER who spent three months working with the disabled in a disadvantaged country has been drawing parallels with her work back home.

Helen Jolly, a support worker with Hartlepool Special Needs Support Group (HSNSG), spent three months as a volunteer in Burkina Faso, which is bordered by Ghana, Mali, Niger and The Ivory Coast in Western Africa.

She spent time with polio sufferers and helped to campaign for grants to help make their lives easier.

The 23-year-old, from Hart Lane, in Hartlepool, who said the trip “changed my whole outlook”, shared her experiences during a talk at HSNSG’s resource centre in Park Road last night.

She is using the event to raise money for HSNSG, which helps people with disabilities and their families.

Former English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College student Helen travelled to Africa on a Government-funded International Citizenship Service Government scheme and was there from April until mid-July.

She lived with four other volunteers in a house in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou and spent her day either in an office working for a non-Government organisation applying for funding to help the disabled, or she would be out in the community, getting to know disabled people, including polio sufferers, or people who had birth defects.

“We got to know them and got to know about their lives and the struggles they had and what we could do to try and help”, said Helen.

“We weren’t asking the public for many things - that’s not sustainable.

“We were looking at international organisations and applying for grants.”

Helen said she would like to return to Burkina Faso to help out again.

She added: “It was quite an eye-opener to look beyond the statistics and see the real people.

“They don’t want pity, all they want is to be respected and treated as individuals, they don’t want us to throw money at them.

“They want their voice to be heard.
“They are all living in poverty but are still so generous.”

Helen volunteered with HSNSG for a year before becoming a support worker with the organisation.

She said: “In Burkina Faso, they do have children’s centres but didn’t have any facilities for special needs children, so all the children were treated the same.

“There was a whole world of difference to what we have here in the UK.”

Helen’s talk included a Powerpoint presentation featuring photographs from her experience and she also laid on African-themed food, including rice and various sauces.