Eye-opening work experience in Africa gave Bristol’s Leah Taylor a new perspective on life and made her ‘a better person’.
Leah, who is a clinical assistant for sight-saving ophthalmology organisation Newmedica at Clifton, Bristol, was given a three-month sabbatical so she could use many of her professional skills to teach people in Kenya.
For years the 23-year-old had wanted to seek new experiences in countries different to her own, so she put herself forward to work for the Voluntary Service Overseas.
Leah was sent to the Kenyan county of Taita Taveta, where she worked with different youth groups and in vocational training centres, teaching employability and entrepreneurship skills.
She said: “Some of the people we met hadn’t eaten for a week. We were trying to be organised, giving out food to the disabled first, but it was manic. They were desperate. I cried when I saw that.
“But it was a really good experience, even though it wasn’t necessarily what I expected, and now that I’m back I’m appreciating everything in my life much more and I’m more patient than I was.”
Leah saw first-hand the terrible effects of period poverty, where girls and women have no access to sanitary products.
She added: “Girls can’t live a normal life when they are menstruating. They miss school and do not leave the house because they can’t afford or don’t have access to sanitary products.
“We were made aware of girls as young as 13 trading sex for sanitary products just so they can carry on with their lives. We found this extremely shocking, so we held a Period Pride event to empower young women and girls and make them feel proud to be a woman.
“We also gave talks and handed out reusable sanitary products. The day was very successful and left us feeling really proud of our achievements. We’re hoping that the knowledge we gave will be passed on to their family and friends so that no girl or woman has to feel embarrassed or shameful about their period again.”
Newmedica Bristol, where Leah is employed, provides NHS-funded ophthalmology services in the South West.
Julian Phillips, operational director at Newmedica Bristol, said Leah’s experience has broaden her outlook and skills range.
He added: “There has been a real positive change in Leah since her return. She is now even more determined in her role and thoughtful when dealing with patients.
“What Leah has done at her age is really commendable. She’s gone right out of her comfort zone to help people in another part of the world and test herself in ways she couldn’t have imagined.