HIV/AIDS has now reached epidemic proportions in parts of the African continent and educating young people about how to safeguard themselves against these potentially fatal diseases is of vital importance.
That’s why the Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham stepped in to help finance a spell of voluntary work in Zambia by 20-year-old Bethan Young, of Coedpoeth near Wrexham, who spent almost a month as part of a UK team educating local youngsters about how to stop the spread of HIV through safe sex.
Her father, Paul Young, is a porter at the hospital.
Sue Jones, Hospital and Business Development Manager for Spire Yale Hospital, said: “This was a great project for the hospital to be involved in and we were delighted to help Bethan make the trip to Zambia. I understand that she was able to do lots of good work there and I’d like to say very well done to her.”
Bethan, who left Ysgol Clywedog in 2010 and is due to begin the final year of her degree course in medical pharmacology at Cardiff University later this month (September), joined a specialist team called SKIP Cardiff on her African expedition.
SKIP - Student's for Kids International Projects - is a student-led charity which aims to provide sustainable support projects for vulnerable children around the world.
Based at Cardiff University, it was started in 1999 to help disabled children at two orphanages in Belarus. After 11 successful years it withdrew from Belarus and its committee members began conducting research in Zambia.
SKIP is currently in the early stages of developing a new project in the country for which it is partnered with the local non-governmental organisation Dream Livingstone.
In the summer of 2013 volunteers carried out further research in two previously identified communities near Livingstone - Malota Compound and Linda Farm - and the project continued to develop this summer.
Bethan said: “The aim of the programme in Livingstone, which is in the south of the country near the border with Zimbabwe, is to improve the health, education and welfare of the children in the community.
“I was part of a team of 12 from Cardiff University, including medical, psychology, neuro-science and occupational therapy students, and our aim was to educate young people about puberty, safe sex and HIV/AIDS in the hope of raising awareness and ultimately reducing the spread of HIV in their community.
“It cost about £2,000 for each one of us to make the trip and we had to help with raising this and also secure some kind of match funding.
“As my father, Paul Young, has worked as a porter at Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham for quite a few years I decided to ask them if they were prepared to help and was delighted when they agreed to let me have a donation of £250 towards the cost of my trip.
“I raised the rest of the money, which went to pay for things such as the flight, accommodation and the necessary vaccinations, by working behind the bar at the students’ union at Cardiff University.”
Bethan, who has a younger brother Daryn, 16, added: “The team split into smaller groups and I was with the one which worked mainly at a government school in Ngwenya, which is a community on the outskirts of Livingstone.
“I was teaching young people aged from 11 to 18 about puberty, HIV and other STIs - sexually transmitted infections – to explode some myths about HIV and protect themselves against it.
“What I found was that because HIV is a massive problem in that part of the world, the young people already knew quite a lot about it. However, they didn’t seem to know much about pregnancy and other STIs, so I think we were able to help them with their understanding of these issues.
“This year’s trip was very much a trial run for the project and planning is already underway to send a fresh group out there next summer. Although I won’t be part of that, hopefully the input I’ll be able to make will be useful to them.
“It was a project I very much wanted to get involved in. I found it worthwhile and interesting as it was so different from my normal everyday life and gave me the chance to see life in Africa first hand.
“The experience also allowed me to develop new skills in communication and problem solving, and demonstrate my ability to adapt to new situations and willingness to help others.
“During the time I was there I think we must have spoken to hundreds of young people as there were about 30 or 40 in each class. They were very receptive and happy to listen and learn from us.
“While I was there we also gave some English and maths lessons to the young people and tried to learn some of the local language. I also had time to explore Victoria Falls, which is very near to Livingstone where I was staying.
“I am very grateful to the Spire Yale Hospital for letting me have the funding to help make the trip possible.”