Award for charity worker who lost hands and feet

A FORMER lawyer who lost her hands and feet to meningitis and now runs a charity providing prosthetics to amputees in developing countries has scooped a global humanitarian award.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 23rd January 2015, 8:30 am
Olivia Giles is pictured alongside runner-up Sompop Jantraka
Olivia Giles is pictured alongside runner-up Sompop Jantraka

Olivia Giles OBE was presented with the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA) 2015 at a special ceremony at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway – the birthplace of Scotland’s bard.

The gong – launched in 2002 – recognises big-hearted individuals who have saved, improved or enriched the lives of others through personal self-sacrifice or direct humanitarian work.

Ms Giles was chosen as this year’s winner from a pool of 120 nominations – the largest ever received by the RBHA.

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In 2002, the Edinburgh lawyer’s life was changed forever when meningitis left her a quadruple amputee.

She gave up her successful career to focus her energy on helping people in sub-Saharan Africa. Her charity, 500 Miles, now helps hundreds of people a year in Malawi and Zambia, from adults who lose limbs from infections or traffic accidents, to toddlers with cerebral palsy.

The charity’s centres now provide more than 1650 prosthetic and orthotic devices each year to people who badly need them.

And the charity’s new fundraising campaign, the BIG dinner, is set to change the lives of hundreds of more people.

Speaking about the RBHA award, she said: “I’m both shocked and overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the judges for this unexpected recognition.

“I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to help out the people we work with and firmly believe that I got my second chance so I could help others get theirs.

“It’s impossible to describe how it feels when you see a young girl walk for the first time thanks to a prosthetic leg we’ve provided, or to hear that men who had to depend on family and friends to get around are regaining some form of independence because they are now mobile.

“It really means the world and I’m very privileged to be part of that. And she added: “As a proud Scotswoman, it’s a tremendous honour to receive the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award and I will continue to do all I can to live up to his beliefs of treating everyone as equals and working towards a fair and just society throughout the world.”

In 2010, Ms Giles was awarded an OBE by the Queen. Councillor Bill McIntosh, chair of the RBHA Judging Panel and leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “My warmest congratulations to Olivia on being named our Robert Burns Humanitarian Award winner 2015. All three of our finalists recognise that not everyone has the same choices, freedoms and opportunities – and what they have done to address this has changed tens of thousands of lives.

“If Burns was alive today, I’m sure he would agree that Olivia is all that a humanitarian should be and a very worthy recipient of an award named in his honour.”

City interview

BROADCASTER Sheena McDonald will quiz Olivia about her work in Africa and her BIG dinner campaign during an interview next Wednesday.

The campaign aims to raise £500,000 in a single night. It will involve hundreds of separate dinners being eaten all over the world, some of which will be show-cased in a web broadcast broadcast by Fred MacAulay.

Ms McDonald understands the life-changing impact of an illness or accident after suffering a serious head injury in 1999 when she was knocked down by a police van.

Tickets to watch Ms Giles’ interview at the Scottish Storytelling Centre cost £7.