Community impact: Working on issues students care about 

Community impact: Working on issues students care about 
Date28th Nov 2022AuthorJessica HardyCategoriesStudent Life

St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College won the 2022 Community Impact Award from SFCA for their work with the African Carribean Leukaemia Trust.

What do singer Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins of TLC fame, former Corrie actress and X Factor star Victoria Ekanoye, and the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Sir Trevor Phillips all have in common? Well, they are all sufferers or carriers of sickle cell anaemia, the most common type of sickle cell disease.

Sufferers of sickle cell disease produce red blood cells which distort into a sickle shape when they give up their oxygen.  Such sickle-shaped cells are not as flexible and may become stuck in the narrow blood vessels. When this happens, that part of the body becomes deprived of oxygen, resulting in moderate to excruciating pain in the part of the body affected, with the possibility of permanent damage to the tissue. Sickle cell disease is particularly common in people with an African or Caribbean heritage.

The African Caribbean Leukemia Trust (ACLT) is a charity which works to combat misconceptions about blood and organ donation in the community and to encourage more people to register to donate blood, stem cells, and organs to those suffering from sickle cell disease and other blood disorders. Saint Francis Xavier Sixth Form College has been working with the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust for many years. It is a charity that is particularly pertinent to our student body, most of whom are from BAME backgrounds, and many of whom have family members affected by sickle cell anaemia – or suffer from it themselves. 

One of our Year 13 A Level students, ‘Nicola’, has sickle cell anaemia. Her condition means that she is regularly in ‘crisis’ which leads to her being in terrible pain and too exhausted to come to college or even to study at home. She often needs time away from college to recover, and on occasion can spend days or weeks in hospital. Nicola’s teachers have been working tirelessly to support her, using our online platforms when she is unable to attend, and providing additional one-to-one support. Our Achievement Officers are also on hand to help Nicola catch up on missed work. This illness has obviously had a major impact on her progression; one option to help Nicola cope is to drop down to two A Levels before she takes her final exams next year, which would reduce her future options. 

There is no widely available cure for sickle cell, although blood transplants and, more recently, stem cell treatment, have proved successful in combatting the condition. However, donors must be carefully matched.  Nicola’s family come from Ghana, and there is a major shortage of donations from the African community in the UK. ACLT are committed to tackling this shortage, and so we invited them into the college to run a stem cell, blood, and organ donation awareness and registration drive. To prepare students and educate them about the issue in advance, the work of the ACLT was discussed during compulsory tutorial sessions. Four ACLT staff members also visited lessons over four days in March to raise awareness of the lack of donors from African and Caribbean communities. ACLT later provided opportunities for students and staff to sign up and register to become stem cell, blood and organ donors, leading to enormous success: 46 students signed up to donate blood, 17 to donate organs, and 102 stem cells.

To build on this foundation, we have asked ACLT to return to college and work with students during our Christmas 2022 House Days. During our House Days, ACLT will be setting our students a challenge: How can ACLT utilise TikTok (and other social media channels) to sign up users (16+) to the stem cell, blood, and organ registers? Social media star ‘Stevo the Madman’, a former footballer who has used his platform on Snapchat and TikTok to raise awareness of blood donation and debunk myths in the black community, is also working closely with ACLT and he will be on hand to support students. Nicola will also be recording a short vox pop to share during the day to highlight what it is like to live with sickle cell disease. 

 ACLT is one of four charities the college supports, and a number of fundraising events have been planned throughout this year.  For example, proceeds from our Christmas Jumper Day later this term will be donated to ACLT. We are proud to play a small part in combatting this disease, and its unequal effects. 

Jessica is director of behaviour and attitudes at St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College. Look out for more blogs from award winners in the coming weeks; this is the fourth in a series, and you can find the first here.

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