‘Life changing’ experience helps mental health nurse make a difference

Jenny Walker, NSFT mental health nurse. Photo: NSFT

Jenny Walker, NSFT mental health nurse. Photo: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

An adventurous nurse at the region's mental health trust has described the emotion of completing a half marathon in scorching heat to make a difference to some of Sierra Leone's most impoverished children.

Jenny Walker, who is a mental health nurse and non-medical prescriber based in Great Yarmouth with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), visited Africa in late May alongside 12 other runners and a filmmaker from St Thomas' Church in Norwich.

During the week-long trip, the group visited some of the work carried out by the charity Street Child, before completing either a 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon to raise vital funds.

Ms Walker, who only began running last February, opted for the 13.1-mile half marathon distance, and has so far raised more than £2,500.

The group began their trip by visiting a rubbish dump in Kissy, which is a workplace and home to many families. They also met people who have set up their own businesses with Street Child's support, as well as travelling to a school run by the charity.

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They finished the week by completing the run in over 33 degree heat, cheered on by crowds of locals and joined by children who wanted to run alongside them – something which 35-year-old Ms Walker described as a 'privilege'.

'The whole experience has changed me and was incredibly inspiring,' said Ms Walker, a mother of three who lives in south Norfolk.

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'I feel that I got far more out of it than I could ever offer the people of Sierra Leone by trying to raise money.

'It was a real blessing and a refreshing experience. Since the civil war and Ebola crisis, the country has been through such a difficult time; they have such high levels of deprivation, poor sanitation and accommodation. Despite this, it was a very uplifting experience. Sierra Leone is a beautiful country and it was a real pleasure to meet such wonderfully warm and resilient people.

'Visiting the rubbish dump was the most difficult thing we did. Your instincts are telling you that you don't want to be there because of the smell, but, at the same time, these are people's homes, and there were a lot of children working there. Some wanted to show us where they lived, and we were amazed that they had made such beautiful homes, which they were so proud of, from things they had found on the dump.

'Street Child also supports people in setting up their own businesses so that they can become self-sufficient and pay for their own children to go to school. We were lucky enough to visit some of those projects, and were really impressed with this empowering work.

'Visiting the school was a real eye-opener. Although the classroom was packed with children, they had no resources and the classrooms were bare, the children were however so grateful to attend school. What struck me as a nurse were the lack of basic facilities such as toilets and running water, and the village was completely cut off and had no real access to medical care.

'The half marathon was a fantastic experience. People lined the streets and were cheering, and children were keen to hold our hands and run with us, as it is one of the highlights of their year. We went through some stunning areas and were able to enjoy fantastic scenery, including the jungle, whilst enjoying the sounds of the local wildlife. There was a real sense of pride and sense of achievement when we finished what was a personally challenging and emotional experience.

'I will definitely continue to support Street Child because the visit to Sierra Leone showed me the huge difference that such a small amount of money can make. I would love to go back one day and would even considering doing the half marathon again.'

Ms Walker works for NSFT's Eastern Recovery Team, which provides assessment, treatment and review for patients within the community who are experiencing mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, psychotic symptoms and mood disorders.

The team works in the Great Yarmouth area and receive referrals from GPs, acute hospitals and other health professionals, and offer a range of services from support to medication and physical health review, psychological input, graded exposure work, care and crisis planning.

Anyone who would like to sponsor Ms Walker can visit https://sierraleonemarathon2017.everydayhero.com/uk/jenny-w

So far, the 13-strong team from St Thomas' Church have raised a total of £17,300.

To watch a full video about their trip, visit https://youtu.be/PNpoU6j4xSI

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