International diabetes network of friends – by Rebecca and Alyssa

Alyssa (left) and Rebecca (right)

Each year the International Diabetes Federation holds a Youth Leadership Camp where young people learn about diabetes advocacy and how to make a difference. Rebecca (who’s part of our Young Adult Panel) and Alyssa (who volunteers with Diabetes Scotland) were selected to attend this year’s event in Romania. Here are their best bits:

 

 

 

Lifelong friends

One of the best things that happens when people with diabetes come together is the instant bond that is created. It is an amazing feeling to be able to talk openly about how Type 1 diabetes affects us all, and share common experiences. To understand how it feels to live with diabetes, rather than having to explain what it feels like to others. By the end of the camp we had made lifelong friends from all over Europe. Most importantly, friends with whom we can talk openly about our condition, who understand what it is like. The shared understanding is truly incredible.

 

Huge variations

It was great to listen to young people from each country present. It was also a humbling reminder of how much we take the NHS for granted. There are huge variations in access to free diabetes supplies. In Lithuania, adults receive only 75 reimbursed test strips per month. People with Type 1 should test at least 4 times a day, so at least 120 strips per month are needed. This means patients are forced to purchase strips to help them control their condition.

We heard that in Ukraine and Moldova, people get no help paying for diabetes supplies and have to fund everything themselves. This makes using an insulin pump an almost unreachable goal. In Bulgaria, insulin is funded. In Bulgaria and Romania, the life-saving drug glucagon isn’t even available. Learning about these difficulties really puts things into perspective, and made our mindset about care in the UK change completely.

 

Learning to lead

We all shared another bond: the desire to make a change and to lead. We learnt loads of essential skills to help us be youth advocates, from running our own projects to speaking up on the issues that matter to people living with diabetes.

The workshops and presentations by IDF board members were fascinating. A workshop on advocacy by IDF’s intern Weronika, was incredibly useful. We discussed how to pitch ideas by creating ‘personas’ (character profiles) on who we may be addressing, and making an idea as relevant as possible to all personas. We weren’t expecting such a business-orientated session. It encouraged us to think more broadly about target audiences.

It was also inspirational to meet the faces behind IDF Europe. As many of us aspire to increase access to diabetes care, we had the rare and exciting opportunity to discuss topics such as sponsorship’s and project development with people working in the field. We were encouraged by their support and honesty. They immediately made us feel comfortable to voice our opinions, making sure we could make the most of the sessions and the week as a whole. Suddenly, even the most ambitious plans began to seem possible, and with the training received in presentations, we feel ready to set projects in motion and make real change in the UK and beyond.

 

Fun and bonding

It wasn’t all business. We learnt new sports such as basketball and volleyball, went swimming and walking, and although we were all from different backgrounds we all made sure everyone could take part and wasn’t left out. At the end of the camp, we could barely walk from being so active. We’re surprised we didn’t all come home with a six pack!

 

One of the highlights was the flash mob that we organised and performed in Salina Turda salt mine in Cluj Napoca. It may have been very out of time(!), but was an amazing event to be part of. The event was about learning from each other, but it’s the fun activities like this that make these trips worthwhile.

We cannot thank IDF Europe and Diabetes UK enough. The experience was above and beyond our expectations in every way, and the inspiration we have gained from IDF staff and the incredible work by participants in their countries has motivated us and strengthened our vision for improved care in the UK. We are excited to get back to work, with a refreshed perspective on the UK’s position in Europe and also the support of a new international network of friends!

To find out more about the IDF Youth Leadership Camp go to the IDF website.

To find out more about Diabetes UK events for people with Type 1 diabetes, go to our Type 1 Events pages.

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