Monday, 4 January 2010

Inspirational Heroes: Olivia Giles

As the cliché states: a picture is worth a thousand words and an incredibly moving programme on BBC called Africa’s Walk of Hope began with the image of a beautiful, blond woman applying her mascara by gripping it between the stumps of her wrists.

Olivia Giles, the driving force behind Miles for Smiles and 500 Miles was a successful Edinburgh lawyer when she lost both hands and both of her lower limbs after collapsing into a coma caused by meningococcal septicaemia.

At the start of the programme she talked about her realisation that when she was given prosthetic limbs of how fortunate she felt she was. She was going to be able to walk out of hospital. Subsequent to this huge event in her life she became more aware of the issues faced by the limb-less across the world – and in particular, certain areas of Africa.

The ability to walk is something that those of us who are able to, simply take for granted. It is core to the human experience that we are ambulatory and “normally” that is from the vantage point of a straight back and a pair of strong limbs. We can stand up and meet the world eye to eye. Easy peasy. As simple as breathing.

However, for many people in the world this is not the case. Reports say that every 30 seconds somewhere in the world, someone has just become an amputee and for many of these people the dream of a replacement limb is just that: a dream.

And this is where Olivia stepped in. While most of us who might have found themselves in her position would be bemoaning our fate, Olivia strapped on her feet and started her tireless work to help numerous other individuals who are less fortunate than she is.

The blurb on the BBC website for the programme read: “In March 2009, 500 Miles established a clinic in Malawi and the film charts its progress and Olivia's attempt to spread her charitable work to Zambia. With over 10% of the population being disabled, and with one of the poorest health services in the world, the challenges are immense. Olivia hears of some of the prejudices that surround disability in southern Africa and the practical difficulties the medical staff face in trying to meet the needs of patients who can often travel hundreds of miles for a consultation or treatment.”

The experience makes Olivia even more determined that her charity is successful. She says: "I am incredibly lucky to be alive at all. To be able to come here and do this is a golden opportunity. It is inspiring for me that I can use the second chance I have had to help other people."

For more details of Olivia’s work and to make a donation go to...

As the programme drew to a close, I was struck by a number of mini-grumbles were put into perspective – how much the new limbs meant to the recipients – the courage and determination of Olivia to succeed in her aim to help - and how apt the name of the charity was; Olivia Giles is a woman who is rarely without a broad and warm smile, while offering hope and renewed self-respect for others.


  1. For sure, my grumblings today of the heaviest mail ever seem very petty. I could, after all, handle the mail, place it in boxes, carry rather heavy boxes and drive down the highway. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. A remarkable woman! I am reminded of the quotation, "I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

  3. You're welcome, Martie and Carol. Olivia is connected to a friend of mine who is extremely proud of her. I hope the BBC programme and my little effort get her more notice - and ultimately more money for her charitable efforts.

  4. Glad you're blogging about Olivia, Michael. A truly inspirational woman.

  5. Great idea to blog about Olivia, Michael. She's astonishing and we all need to check our perspectives now and then.