Giving the gift of life: Youth Education on Organ Donation – Part 2

ACLT's Giving the Gift of Life programme trains youth to rock the power of peer education

In our last article we introduced the ACLT’s (African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust) UK ‘Giving the Gift of Life’ Ambassador program and discussed how the programme has the ability to bring hope to both potential recipients and young people. Building on that post, we will expand on the ways in which this important programme impacts people’s attitudes and behaviours surrounding organ donation.

In the world of donation, age plays a significant factor. The age of people who have donated organs after their death has changed in the past decade with more aged over 50 and fewer younger donors. While organs from people in their 70s and 80s can be transplanted successfully, it is important for younger people in the UK (and worldwide) to be aware of the significant role they play in donation. Older donors are less likely to be able to donate as many of their organs as younger people. Some organs may become less suitable for transplantation as people age. From a medical perspective, the quality of organs from younger donors may be more ideal for a patient awaiting a donor match. Younger donors tend to have ‘less mileage’ on them, having been exposed to far fewer stressors. However, there are many other ways age plays a role in organ donation.

Young people represent the future in so many ways. The younger a person is when they join a registry the better positioned they are to help someone in need for a number of reasons. When younger people register it means they spread the message of ‘Giving the Gift of Life’ for a longer period of time. It becomes a part of a their values much sooner. They can then share their awareness and beliefs with many more people who are presented with the same question, ‘To Give or Not to Give?’ This ‘butterfly effect’ on others is profound and ultimately can help to improve the numbers of registered donors. It is well known that young people are heavily influenced by their peers. Hence, having young people spread the message of donation would be the most effective means of influencing Generation Y to take action. We want to see people (young and old alike) mobilise, get the facts, and make an informed choice about volunteering to be a potential lifesaver. The African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust has a great relationship with young people stemming from the involvement of Daniel De-Gale ‘s friends. Daniel’s inspirational life and legacy remains at the heart of the ACLT.

It was the nearly impossible quest to find a bone marrow donor that made Daniel’s parents Beverley De-Gale and Orin Lewis realise the glaring inequalities experienced by people Black, Asian and mixed ethnic (BAME) communities in their search for a suitable match that resulted in the formation of the ACLT. Recognising how taboo the topic of donation was amongst BAME groups instigated their desire to challenge and change those long-standing misconceptions, and naivety about the depth of the situation. The enthusiasm and willingness of Daniel’s friends to help fire up the campaign to find him a match is what made the ACLT aware of how valuable young people are in promoting the cause of donation.

One of the ACLT’s first campaigns, a joint campaign with Choice FM called the V project, saw young people become mentors to leukaemia patients providing them with support. They also attended bone marrow registration drives providing basic information and acting as counselors. Working in these roles provided valuable life skills to participants. They were able to use this to boost their CV’s(resumes). The response from these young people was so positive, their contribution proved invaluable to the cause of donation. The V project was followed by the Register to Be a Lifesaver campaign, again aimed at young people. In partnership with the Anthony Nolan Trust and NHS(National Health Service) Blood and Transplant, campaigners delivered talks and presentations to 17/18 year olds on bone marrow, blood and organ donation. In this programme, volunteer presenters who were passionate about donation, inspired young people to think seriously about becoming donors. In building upon these experiences, the Giving the Gift of Life (GGOL) project was born.

Funded by the Department of Health, ACLT continues to work in partnership with national organisations such as NHS Blood and Transplant who govern the NHS organ donor register as well as the National Blood Service and British Bone Marrow registry. Giving the Gift of Life is geared toward further increasing the reach of the ACLT within the community and improve the lives of young people through the knowledge and skills they receive.

The ACLT GGOL Ambassadors Programme is a mutually beneficial scheme for both the ACLT and participants in the program. By recruiting young people between the ages of 16-25 who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) we train young people in public speaking and presentation skills. We are opening up the doors of opportunity and courage. Our aim is to give young people the confidence to speak to not only their peers but also larger audiences either as an individual or as part of a group. In this way they will be able to gain experience in teamwork and presentation skills. Young people are recruited from a wide variety of organisations including youth centres, job centres and youth offending teams.

The program begins with an invitation to an induction event where we invite potential Ambassadors to learn about the ACLT, the work we do and the basics of donation, highlighting the inequalities that exist among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. We then invite them to become GGOL ambassadors emphasising how the programme will benefit them by providing them with skills which make them more marketable to potential employers.

Once Ambassadors are signed up they will take part in our specially designed curriculum which includes several activities designed to make participants comfortable with speaking publicly. Then, we introduce information surrounding the core topic of organ donation. We teamed up with persons who have experience in the performing arts to identify the skills and techniques that would ensure success for our young people. To assist in the learning process and to boost young people’s confidence we provide volunteer mentors to support Ambassadors as they create their presentations. Once Ambassadors have completed their presentations and are comfortable enough to present in front of an audience, we identify opportunities for them to speak in front of an audience. We also encourage them to share the message amongst their peers.

Young people clearly have a beneficial role to play in organ donation that far exceeds their physical advantages. Their creativity, high energy and resourcefulness make young people ideal spokespersons for the cause of donation. The ACLT will continue to invest in young people for their continued benefits.

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