Giving the Gift of Life Youth Organ Donation Awareness: The GGOL Ambassador Experience…so far

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Giving the Gift of Life (GGOL) is a unique programme cultivating organ, blood and bone marrow donor youth ambassadors through job skills training. It was created by the UK’s African Caribbean Leukamia Trust (ACLT). One of their participants from the programme gives us the inside scoop on his training experience.

By Matthew Babayemi, ACLT Youth Ambassador
 

‘Spread the word about organ donation?’ When I first started the programme, my perception of the whole scenario was similar to every other young person who had participated in the scheme; one of scepticism.  The questions that pervaded many of our minds were ‘What am I going to get out of this?’ and ‘is this a waste of my time?’

The initial stage of the programme included team-building activities, which at the outset seemed too much to demand of this random group of young people from South London.  But the leaders of the training programme insisted that these activities were important for our personal development and would improve our confidence and other soft skills. One of the activities involved shouting out our own names one by one while imitating or ‘remixing’ an action performed by a leader. Admittedly, this particular activity wasn’t my favourite, but it conveyed the idea that you can be yourself, without having to fear embarrassment or scrutiny. By the end of the first day we had to give a one-minute speech to camera. These activities were designed to get us out of our comfort zones; undoubtedly they achieved that aim. Now as trained Ambassadors, we’ll be able to effectively respond to a potential organ donor who may be taken out of out of his or her comfort zone. Our own inhibitions sometimes don’t allow us to accept a reality so distant from what we have usually experienced in our lives.

The training gave us clarity on organ donation where myths and fears cast a shadow. One example was the ‘mis’belief that if you sign up to be an organ donor, somehow your life is devalued and your organs are taken prematurely or even immediately! Clearly this isn’t the case. Hearing that it’s only once you have entered that perpetual resting place that one’s bodily organs are utilised to perpetuate life gives reassurance. The Ambassadors, with training and guidance can make all the difference by providing clarity, changing mind sets and getting people to act.

One GGOL Ambassador who also suffers from leukaemia and is the same age as me, spoke of one of his experiences with the illness. He had a friend who he met in hospital who also suffered from a blood cancer. Unbeknown to him his friend was given two days to live. As predicted on the second day his friend tragically lost his life. He was left feeling numb and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Upon hearing this story, the sense of urgency became very apparent to me. Before, I thought of disease and illness as something that didn’t affect my life but the truth of the matter is that anyone is susceptible.

After the training week the GGOL Ambassadors began work on a film to connect with the wider community on organ donation and the health issues that face us on a daily basis. In the film, a number of key speakers and representatives of the cause were interviewed. ACLT co-founders Orin Lewis OBE and Beverley De-Gale OBE, spoke fervently about giving and receiving and being able to benefit greatly from organisations such as the ACLT. Snakeyman, a well-known UK Rap Artist, also added that we ‘need to become leaders and lead by example’. George the Poet – a young critically acclaimed spoken word artist wrote and performed ‘Am I my Brother’s Keeper’, which punctuated the end of our film with a poignant call to action: “You’d buy something expensive for an arm and a leg, so why not give something more meaningful?’ So True.

With the training and guidance we received, Ambassadors can make all the difference in changing mind sets and getting people to act. We are making a difference by visiting other young people in universities, colleges and events across London, interacting with young people on a level that inspires a change of perspective about not only donation but also the cohesion of our own communities and what it is we can do for ourselves and each other without external assistance or intervention.

I have greatly benefited from this programme. As a volunteer, I learned to research effectively, organise my thoughts creatively and give structure to a presentation. This is a really important aspect of our roles as GGOL Ambassadors for the ACLT because many people are unaware of the endemic that faces our community. We have been equipped with the tools to convey the fact that life-threatening illnesses such as leukaemia and the need for organs can both affect anyone, young or old, Black or White. To learn that unfortunately you have a significantly reduced chance of finding a suitable unrelated donor if you’re Black or Asian due to the small proportion of people from these communities who have elected to get registered on the bone marrow and organ donor register cuts to the core. Coming into the project I felt strongly that it should not be left to members of the public to provide the major proportion of contributions to charities that actually help to save lives. I think the government should support more joint initiatives and provide more grassroots support for this cause as it is such an important issue that doesn’t get enough attention. The new National Black Asian and minority ethnic Transplant Alliance certainly is a leap in the right direction.It should not be left to members of the public supply a major proportion of contributions to charities that actually help to save lives.

The whole process has been an inspiration to me. Experiences that will last a lifetime were shared and passed on to us just like the Olympic Torch. They aroused our passion, and compassion for humanity was roused. The bonds of friendship were tightened, and a sense of purpose was established. The young Daniel De -Gale and the many others who have suffered the same fate but passed on a legacy to inspire a generation will live on in our memories and our actions. Their early departures will not have been in vain because our duty as conscientious members of the community has been awakened. So, as a Giving the Gift of Life Ambassador, I implore you to take progressive action. What are you waiting for? Join the ACLT’s Heroes Most-Wanted lists and get registered.

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