13th April 2011
Nottingham nurse is a “21st Century hero”
A University of Nottingham nursing graduate has been named as the British Journal of Nursing’s Nurse of the Year 2011.
Helen Allen graduated from the University in 2001 and has since dedicated her working life to expanding the global dimension of nursing by inspiring and enabling other nurses and healthcare professionals to work alongside a Zambian organisation which acts to alleviate poverty and HIV/AIDS.
She was nominated by Dr Sheila Greatrex-White, who is Course Director of the MSc Nursing Studies and ERASMUS Co-ordinator in the University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy.
Dr Greatrex-White said: Helen does all this important charity work whilst practicing as a nurse on a busy cardio-thoracic surgical unit in Manchester and as a dedicated mum to two children aged two and four. Helen is indeed a 21st century hero, an extraordinary nurse and an outstanding woman. It is about time we started to honour our nurses ‘on the ground’ and ‘unsung heroes’ in the UK. She is a credit to the University and especially to the Division of Nursing.”
Helen set up an award-winning UK charity Called PEPAIDS — Peer Education Programme Against AIDS. Last year the charity was able to employ its first full-time member of staff, Sasha Kasthuriarachchi, after she won the Vodaphone World of Difference international competition. Sasha’s role was designed by Helen and helped Sasha win a £25,000 salary to work for PEPAIDS and up to £20,000 costs for the charity directly associated with her employment.
Helen has also developed a programme called Engage which offers volunteer opportunities in Zambia to people from all walks of life in the UK and other countries. She has also built on a scheme she initially started to offer other university students the chance to see the work of PEPAIDS’ Zambian partner organisation called SAPEP. To date 70 volunteers have undertaken placements in Zambia, most of whom have been students from different UK universities. A further PEPAIDS initiative is Schools of Good Hope, which links UK schools with community schools in Zambia and Helen is a founding member of a coalition of small charities called Together4Africa.
In 2008 the University gave Helen an Alumni Laureate of the Year Award in recognition of her work.
Helen was born in Zambia one of twins, but her twin sister Mary was stillborn. Her parents returned to the UK with her as a baby but as she grew up Helen had a powerful urge to return to the place of her birth and to visit her sisters’ grave. She eventually chose a nursing degree at The University of Nottingham because it offered her the chance to study abroad and in her final year she did indeed return to Zambia. She learned more about HIV/AIDS working with a local team of health and social workers operating in a rural part of Zambia and was inspired to do more to make a transformational change in the country of her birth.
“I resolved to go home and do something to help. I would send some money over and that would be it — thanks very much,” said Helen. “I did come home but I was impacted to the core and I had to do more. I ran the Nottingham half-marathon and raised money as an unregistered charity. Two weeks later an anonymous donor gave us £10,000 and that’s how the registered charity PEPAIDS began.
“That was almost exactly 10 years ago and it’s been a lot of hard work. But I’m just doing what I can with what I’ve got and I just want to inspire others to do what they can with what they’ve got.
“I’m so grateful to The University of Nottingham because they were there at the start and without the University I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. It was the University which sowed in me the knowledge that I could do it, I could reach for the sky and my alumni award just inspired me to do more.”
The BJN award is presented annually to an individual who has made an outstanding achievement in nursing. Their judges said they were incredibly impressed with Helen’s nomination in a category which had a very high calibre of entry.
Dr Greatrex-White added: “Helen firmly believes that everyone can do something to help the African people, including Africa nurses, in their struggle against HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Crucially, she is committed to sharing, supporting and acting to help alleviate poverty and the lack of recourses and healthcare workers in Sub Saharan Africa.”
You can find out more about PEPAIDS at http://www.pepaids.org/