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Queen’s student volunteer: ‘Social distancing is a privilege’

Concerned about the impact COVID-19 would have on developing countries, Queen’s student volunteer Shannon Heffron spent lockdown raising £40,000 for her Friends of Africa charity.

Before the UK went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Queen’s student Shannon Heffron was making plans to spend her summer volunteering in African communities through the charity Friends of Africa.

Friends of Africa student volunteers

“Friends of Africa is a charity which supports the development of African communities through educational and building projects,” she explains.  “We run our volunteer programmes during the summer, and we were finishing our preparations to send volunteers to Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania in the coming months.”

Disappointed not to be getting to go on the trip, Shannon was struck by another thought: how would people living in some of Africa’s poorest communities access healthcare during the crisis?

“While we were devastated not to be getting to go, we were still very determined to help these communities from home. We keep ourselves educated about global injustice issues and inequality, and so our membership were very aware and worried about the impact COVID19 would have in developing countries,” says Shannon.

Together with her fellow volunteers, Shannon began to think of ways to raise vital funds during lockdown. The group came up with the idea for a sponsored run challenge.

‘The challenge was for each of us to run 100km in 10 days,” says Shannon. “With some planning and recruiting, on 18th April we began the #FOA100k. We were pests on social media, posting regular updates and sharing widely in order to raise awareness of what we were doing and why.”

Friends of Africa student volunteers

As well as raising vital funds, Shannon was determined to make people aware of the impact this virus is having in other places.  “If there was ever a time for solidarity, it is now,” she says. “We had 83 people complete the 100km challenge, including Friends of Africa members that now live in Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, England, and even people we work with in Ghana and South Africa were taking part.”

The group managed to raise over £40,000.

“We were so overwhelmed and thankful. The challenge was a great way to unite the Friends of Africa community at a time when we all felt very far apart,” says Shannon. “It was a way to remind people that social distancing is a privilege those living in poverty cannot afford; government assistance isn't available everywhere, and that access to healthcare is critical in these times.”

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