We are faced with yet another disaster with the South Asian earthquake. For people in this country who have lost relatives, friends, places that they knew and loved the links are painfully real. The rest of us want to help: we can give time, money or goods to charity.
Yet as health and social care workers we have skills and expertise to share with communities overseas that are suffering from the effects of natural disasters, of famine, war and disease.
The Tropical Health Education Trust encourages links between health communities in the UK and abroad. The links can involve anything, based on expressed need, but there must be interest and commitment from both partners.
One example of this is the link between Adjumani, in Uganda, and Sheffield. This initially focused on improving mental health after significant increases in suicide, depression and alcohol abuse in Adjumani following armed conflict.
Initial contact was made through the Sheffield Care Trust, which provides mental health and learning difficulties services. The partnership is supported by the whole of Sheffield’s health and social care community as well as Sheffield United football club, which has been invited to share in promoting sports activities in Adjumani as one of the many initiatives proposed to combat depression.
Links do not have to be that formal or that big. It takes time and influence to involve a whole city but we can all do things in our workplace. One of my colleagues, Val, has friends working in Burundi. Reading the e-mails makes their work on HIV and Aids much more real than what we see in the media. So when Val said she was doing a sponsored slim to help orphans in Burundi support themselves through the purchase of goats, she had a good response. You can sponsor Val by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Of course we should give to the earthquake appeal, as we supported Live 8 and as we gave to the Tsunami appeal.
But if you can make links, share skills and build partnerships, the benefits both ways will be greater and longer lasting. And if you can do it in a way that captures the imagination, by goats or by football, so much the better.
Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties