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Volunteer Spotlight - February 2022 | Diabetes UK

photo of Helen

Meet Helen Liebhaber, our Volunteer Spotlight for February 2022

To celebrate Student Volunteering Week, we sat down with our volunteer Helen, who has set up a type 1 support group at Bristol UWE.

Early days with diabetes

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 3. We were on holiday in Cyprus and my parents noticed that I lost a lot of weight and was drinking a lot of water. We flew home immediately, and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes by a doctor who was an expert in his field. He was very calm and said, “Helen can do anything she wants; she just has diabetes now.” This is what I think my parents needed to hear. I don’t remember a lot of it, it’s mostly what my parents have told me.

University life

I’m from a small city near Munich in Germany. After going to an international boarding school, I decided I would apply to study in the UK. Bristol UWE seemed like the perfect fit, as I liked the city and the university which is young and vibrant.

I’m now in my second year of a Business & Marketing degree. My first year was disrupted by the pandemic so I did most of it online. I came back to Bristol in April 2021 and life started to open up, I also had my first vaccination then, so I was a bit more relaxed.

Volunteering

In summer 2021, I was talking to a friend about my diabetes and answering her questions. I remember that she looked at me and said “please Helen, never let this knowledge go to waste and the experience that you’ve had. You would be a great person to talk to other people with diabetes and make them feel better.”

That got me thinking and I started looking up volunteering options online to see what was out there. I found out about Diabetes UK and contacted the Volunteering team in the South West.

I started going to a monthly Bristol diabetes support network and met other people with type 1 diabetes. While the group were great, there wasn’t anybody there at university and I thought that there must be people out there at university with diabetes experiencing the same things as me.

Setting up a support group

I decided to set up a group at my university for anyone with diabetes between the ages of 18-25. I created a poster that the Student Union helped me to share, and I asked my friends to help me to put it up in all the toilets around campus!

We had our first group meeting on campus in December 2022. Though there were only four of us, the guys that came along told me how much they appreciated it. The meeting was planned for an hour, but we ended up staying and talking for two hours.

We discussed a lot of topics and discovered common issues. One of the biggest challenges is managing diabetes on nights out. One of the people in the group said that they were told they couldn’t bring their insulin pump into a club. It can also be difficult to explain your diabetes to other students and your lecturers.

I hope that the group will help students to be more confident with who they are and be open about their diabetes. I’ve had struggles with my mental health before, and I know young people with diabetes can struggle with it. Through connecting with other people going through the same thing, we can give each other tips and support each other with everyday issues. You feel an empathy for everyone because you know what they’re going through.

Balancing volunteering and university

I have a lot going on with university, two part-time jobs and volunteering. It’s manageable if you use your time in the right way and recognise when you need a break. The key is to have a routine. I mediate in the morning and go to the gym in the evening. Sometimes though, I just want to lay in bed and read a book or watch Netflix.

It’s a great feeling to be able to help others and it makes everything I’ve gone through with my diabetes a bit easier as I can use it for good. Volunteering has also helped my communication skills, and I’ve learnt how to be sensitive when addressing difficult topics.

We’ve had two meetings, and I’m planning our third. I would love more people to join the group and to join up with another Diabetes UK volunteer who has set up a society at the University of Bristol. It would be great to invite speakers to talk to the group. I would like to open the group up to non-students too. It would be interesting to hear from young people who are working to find out what it’s like in the workplace when you finish university.

We’re always looking for students to volunteer with us, so if you’ve been inspired by Helen’s story, take a look at our volunteering opportunities

 

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