Alumnus of the Year Matthew Clark was still a student when he founded a charity that has raised more than £1 million to transform an African children's hospital.
When Matthew Clark (BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences, 2002) arrived at the Ola During Children's Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on an elective placement as part of his medical degree, he was unprepared for what he would find. The civil war had ended five years earlier but there was no running water, sporadic electricity and a lack of essential medical equipment.
We've achieved a lot already and it's exciting sitting down and thinking what we are going to do in the future.
In a country with the worst infant mortality rate in the world (one in four children dies before the age of five) it was vital something was done. Many of the facilities needed were in place but had not been completed during a post-war refurbishment.
'What I found was terribly depressing in terms of the number of children dying every day but I also felt this overwhelming frustration that it wasn't like you had to start from scratch and build a hospital,' he says.
'There was a building and some doctors and nurses but there were a few bits of equipment missing to join up the dots. There was some training that needed to happen to get things up to date so I felt like it wasn't insurmountable.'
Matthew and the charity's co-founder Tom Cairnes, an International Development student he met while studying Medicine at Cambridge, went to speak to several different organisations but found most were running independent projects instead of working to help the government-run hospital. They knew they had to do something and the Welbodi Partnership was born (welbodi is the Krio word for health).
When Matthew returned home to finish his medical degree and subsequently work for the NHS full-time (he is currently a paediatrician at the Royal London Hospital), he continued to run the charity, going back to Sierra Leone whenever he got the chance. Since its establishment in 2007, the partnership has raised more than £1 million to improve the hospital's facilities.
Its achievements include installing a new electricity generator, fixing the water supply, funding a new emergency and triage room, creating the hospital's first medical records database, supplying a digital X-ray machine, developing nursing training, and supporting a postgraduate training programme provided by African and UK paediatric consultants.
'It is exciting to see how we can apply technology, that other people invent for us, and use it to do things like this,' Matthew says. 'Everybody talks about the "internet generation" being about becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, about technology being something you've got to invent, but we're taking that technology to where it is needed.'
Presentation and teamwork skills learnt during his degree also proved incredibly useful for leading the partnership, and Matthew still looks back on his time at Birmingham with affection. Coincidentally he met his wife, Ellie (née Watson) (BA English and Philosophy, 2000), while studying for his graduate medical degree at Cambridge, unaware she had also studied at Birmingham.
If you work with the right people anything is possible.
He admits to being a 'tedious workaholic' in the charity's early days and praises Elli's understanding nature but says he has taken a small step back since establishing a team of staff. 'Now it's about trying to take a strategic, hands-off role and not get too involved in the minutiae every day,' he says, adding that the charity's next focus is helping the adjacent maternity hospital.
For Matthew it is the team of people around him that inspires him to continue his hard work. 'My relationship with the hospital's staff has matured since they didn't know what to make of the young upstarts who arrived six years ago and thought they could change everything.'
'Everyone has been phenomenally hardworking and talented and we've just built up this fabulous team. We've achieved a lot already and it's exciting sitting down and thinking what we are going to do in the future,' he says. 'If you work with the right people, anything is possible.'
Visit the Welbodi Partnership website.