Brave Olivia wins award for giving hope to amputees

Olivia Giles is accompanied by runner-up Sompop Jantraka at the Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards. Picture: Contributed
Olivia Giles is accompanied by runner-up Sompop Jantraka at the Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards. Picture: Contributed
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A CHARITY campaigner who bravely overcame losing her hands and feet to a form of meningitis has been recognised for her work with amputees.

Olivia Giles was last night presented with the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA) 2015 for efforts to help promote access to prosthetic limbs in developing countries.

Ms Giles’s charity, 500 Miles, is currently leading a fundraising drive, called the Big Dinner, which aims to raise £500,000 to help provide artificial limbs to people in Africa.


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The charity is already credited with establishing two centres in Malawi which help provide prosthetics, as well as subsidising those in need in Zanzibar and Zambia.

Launched in 2002, the RBHA has previously been awarded to human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and, posthumously, to Scots aid worker Linda Norgrove, who was killed after being taken hostage in Afghanistan.

The award recognises those who have saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or direct humanitarian work.

Ms Giles was selected as the winner from 120 nominations – the highest number ever received for the RBHA.

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 the people we work with and firmly believe 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.

“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.”

Ms Giles was working as a lawyer in Edinburgh when she contracted meningococcal septicaemia in 2002. She had to have her hands and feet amputated to save her life.

Following the illness she began campaigning for charities including the Meningitis Trust.

International development minister Humza Yousaf, who presented Ms Giles with her award, said: “The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award recognises the selfless vital work undertaken around the world, every day of every year, to help others. Olivia’s tireless work has undoubtedly improved the lives of people that don’t have access to the healthcare as we do. Countless people with impaired mobility in developing countries have benefited from the leadership that Olivia has provided and live a better life thanks to prosthetics. She is a well-deserving recipient of this award and an inspiration to others.

“Scots and Scots at heart all over the world will be celebrating Robert Burns this weekend and I would encourage everyone to take the time to honour the life of our bard and his enduring message of humanitarianism, egalitarianism and equality.”

The runners-up for this year’s award were Sompop Jantraka – a Thai activist who has spent more than 25 years working to rescue children from exploitation, prostitution and trafficking – and Dr Sanduk Ruit, who works to prevent blindness by treating preventable eye conditions. He has personally restored the sight of more than 100,000 people across Asia and Africa.


Alexander McCall Smith meets Olivia Giles

Dine with friends at home and help African amputees