"Diabetes is part of my life - but it doesn't define me."

02 Jul 13
Sierra Leone



Lucy, 23 from the Mansfield, UK, recently returned from Sierra Leone where she took part in our International Citizen Service programme. Living with Type 1 diabetes makes her ICS experience all the more inspiring. Thanks to Lucy for sharing her story with us and Diabetes UK.

Lucy in Sierra Leone

"My name is Lucy, I'm 23-years-old and have had Type 1 diabetes for 12 years. Two weeks ago I got back from three months volunteer work in Sierra Leone."

I went with a charity called Restless Development who are currently working as part of International Citizen Service (ICS). They send 18-25 year olds to try and be the difference. ICS brings together young people from different countries to fight poverty – with volunteers from the UK working alongside volunteers from the developing world.

As part of my volunteering, ICS have asked us to complete "Action at Home". This is to tell people about my experiences, the work I did and to encourage other young people to follow on the work. I would absolutely love to tell a snippet of my story, and I would love to share it with my fellow diabetics.

It was by far the biggest challenge of my life, made even harder with having to handle my Type 1 diabetes with 45 degree heat, unreliable electricity for my insulin and an extremely poor healthcare system.

I of course was unaware of the lack of electricity and how poor the health system was until I arrived. I had health checks before I went and was deemed fit and healthy to go. Communication is hard from the UK to Sierra Leone, and as diabetes isn't treated or recognised in Sierra Leone. It was harder for the staff over there to 100% understand the needs and support I would need.

There were a few hairy moments where there would be long power cuts and I didn't know if my insulin would be ok to use. But I finally had the mentality of I was 6 hours away from home, I could always go back to get more. And my ever amazingly supportive mum encouraged me and reassured me that if help was ever needed - it was there.

It was hard to adjust to the heat, and I had quite a few hypos within the first month trying to get my insulin right with the combination of heat, the different food and all the walking that I was doing. Undeterred I kept working hard, and with the amazing support of my colleagues and the staff, I did three of the most life changing months of my life. Half way through the programme there was a very unfortunate situation where my testing kit broke! I had bought two with me, in case of such an emergency. I was on mid placement training in a different part of Sierra Leone to where I was living.

Staff were sent down with my spare testing kit, however, disaster struck! There was some confusion with bags and the bag my testing kit was in was left on the transport the staff member had taken, subsequently missing forever!

Lucy in Sierra Leone

The support the staff and my family at home gave me was immense! As was using the testing kit more often in Sierra Leone than at home, it was essential I needed one, the staff scoured the county and finally found me one, with my mum sending out two more with Restless Development, which arrived within three days.

I didn't let this setback deter me from my work and I carried on as normal! Aside from my diabetes I did countless amazing things in Sierra Leone. I helped launch the Craig Bellamy Women's league in Makeni by being asked to referee a game on International Women's Day. I climbed a mountain, I played football in the 45 degree heat (I say I played, I could hardly keep up!!) I learnt to cook, I made friends that I know I will have forever, I taught 11-30 year olds important life skills - sometimes with classes of over 100!

Not only did I teach life skills and youth development, I gained so many life skills and developed myself as a person. The time I spent in Sierra Leone and the memories and experiences I made are immeasurable. Diabetes was always something I knew was a part of me, but I now know it is not something that defines me. What defines me is my love for helping others, my love for making other people smile and my determination to succeed in any circumstance that I'm thrown into.

I would like to encourage people like myself to just go out there and do it, there are always going to be set backs in life and it's always going to be scary and nerve racking, but if you want something there is nothing in this world that can stop you.

Of course there is that extra bit of planning and a little bit more work, but the personal rewards and sense of pride you get out of it is indescribable. I would highly encourage anyone to go on this adventure with ICS."

Find out more about International Citizen Service and Diabetes UK.