In this Q&A series we will be speaking with some of the people who help to drive the work of Project Harar. We had a chat with one of our lead nurses, Raj, who has volunteered with Project Harar for six years!

Tell us a bit about yourself

​I am a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Oncology working at Guy's Cancer Centre. Prior to this I worked on the Head & Neck ward at Guy's Hospital. I completed my nursing training at King's College London & Guy's and St Thomas' Trust; I qualified in 2010 and I have been there ever since!

What inspired you to volunteer for Project Harar? cleft, facial disfigurement, ethiopia, charity, fundraising, eastafria, africa, volunteers, cleft palate, Project Harar

Working on the Head & Neck ward, I often heard about Project Harar from my mentor and senior nurses. I always heard about the Complex Mission and the amazing things they did out in Ethiopia and I wanted to give it a try. ​I also worked alongside Prof McGurk on the ward who was always encouraging and supportive. I always told myself I will join the mission one year and 2014 was my year!

I have been volunteering for the charity for 6 years now. I also had the privilege of working alongside a smaller team for a Review Mission in 2017, where we followed up our previous patients and saw the outcomes from surgery. Planning and attending the Complex Mission is always the highlight of my year! I always come back from each mission and save two weeks of my annual leave so I have time for the next mission the following year.

Tell us about your role as a Lead Nurse for Project Harar during the Complex Mission. 

​I am in such a whirlwind of excitement to have been given the opportunity to be Lead Nurse for the Complex Mission this year. As Lead Nurse this year, I have been working closely with the PH office and many different health professionals to plan this year’s mission. Specifically, I have helped to shortlist and recruit volunteer nurses, guiding them through their journey with PH, supporting their fundraising whilst having an oversight of plans and preparation for mission. Once I am out in Ethiopia, I will review our day to day work, but importantly I will be a role model, clinical leader and advocate for patients and staff.

What is the best thing about volunteering for Project Harar?

​The best thing for me is the patients we treat and the team involved – both are such a big part of why I keep going back! It is very addictive.

Project Harar gives you a family feeling and this is such an important factor - this is why it is different. You work closely in a dedicated team who pull together to do what they can to help these patients.

Most patients are isolated as they are usually the only ones in their village with their facial deformity, however, when they see each other for the first time and realise they are not alone, this is something I will never forget. The bonds formed between patients who have never met before, who then become such close friends is amazing. They look after each other and us volunteers!

What is the biggest challenge about volunteering during the Complex Mission?

​There are two things: 

Firstly, the medical materials out in Ethiopia - the availability of supplies always changes each year, so it is difficult to know what will be available when we get out there. Secondly, not being able to treat all the patients who present to us due to their deformity not being within the remits of our speciality. This is heart-breaking at times as we build a rapport with the patients; you see how much they want help and how far they have travelled to get it, but we counsel them and refer them to the appropriate specialities. 

What are some of the differences between working in an Ethiopian hospital compared to in England?

​The availability of medical supplies and the healthcare facilities, but the one that stuck out to me the most is the difference in nursing. In the UK, we are taught many clinical skills and decision making in our training, however in Ethiopia they are still very much led by the Doctors. But I can see these elements are growing and developing as each year I return, they have improved. We also provide teaching and training to our Ethiopian colleagues during our missions to help build their capacity. 

What do you think volunteering for Project Harar has taught you?

​It has taught me a lot about Head and Neck deformities which would not be seen in the UK, as they would have been picked up and treated much earlier on. It has taught me of the privileges in life but also of the NHS. I have also learnt so much about our patients and what it meant to them having lived with their deformity without the support they would have received here - the social and emotional effects it has on them is again something I have never experienced in the UK.

What would you say to a nurse who is thinking about volunteering for Project Harar but is not 100% sure?

I would say trust me and take that step - you will not regret it!

I've been volunteering for 6 years and it has been the highlight of my nursing career and my life. It will enlighten and enhance the passion you have for nursing and make you realise the different ways of nursing. It has taught me so much about life in general.

The Project Harar team both in London and Ethiopia are also fantastic and supportive.