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Victoria Young

Award Received: 
Student Award
Elective placement volunteering with refugee women in Greece
Year awarded: 

Victoria used her funding to volunteer with refugee women in Thessaloniki, Greece

Vicki Young

I was extremely grateful to receive an Iolanthe Student Midwife Award to help finance part of my elective placement, volunteering with the charity Nurture Project International (NPI) in Thessaloniki, Greece.

During my training as a student midwife in London I encountered an increasing number of refugee women who travelled to this country, yet I understand little of what they had been through other than what is portrayed in the media. The Iolanthe Award enabled me to undertake my elective placement to gain a brief insight into the lives of refugee families which proved invaluable to my future midwifery practice.

As an NPI volunteer, I went out daily as part of a team, visiting refugee families who had recently been moved from refugee camps into temporary accommodation around the city of Thessaloniki where they were awaiting to hear where in Europe they would be granted asylum.  Our main role involved providing infant feeding support and distributing essential supplies to mothers and their babies such as nappies, clothes and toiletries.  In emergency situations, such as the war in Syria, displacement of populations impacts the health and nutrition status of infants and young children greatly. Rates of child mortality can reach 70 times higher than average, even for a previously healthy population (Save the Children UK, 2012). However, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding more than any other measure could reduce child mortality in the under-fives by up to 26% (Bhutta et al., 2008). Displacement, lack of privacy, insecurity and lack of adequate nutrition can undermine feeding practices in emergencies. Effective infant and young child feeding is now a major strategy for preventing and reducing child morbidity and mortality in response to emergencies.

The women and families I met and the stories they told will stay with me forever.  Witnessing first hand their lived experiences has given me a deeper understanding of the care these women truly need, not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically which as holistic health care providers, midwives are ideally placed to offer. 

Spending time with the women and their families exposed me more deeply to their cultural and religious beliefs which has made me a better-rounded midwife, more able to serve this vulnerable community.

After my trip, I was able to present to my university peers on my elective placement experience and shared with them a glimpse of what the women’s lives were like.  I was also lucky enough to present at an RCM conference at my local hospital, sharing my experiences with other midwives using a pictorial presentation set to music which I hope touched a chord with them and helped them gain an insight into the care refugee women truly need.

Overall, this was a life changing experience for which I will always be grateful to the Iolanthe Trust.  I encourage any other student midwives, planning an elective trip which may seem out of financial reach to apply for an Iolanthe Student Midwife Award to help realise their dreams.

View a presentation about Vicki's elective placement to Greece


Bhutta, Z. A., Ahmed, T., Black, R. E., Cousens, S., Dewey, K., Giugliani, E. et al. (2008) Maternal and Child Undernutrition 3 What works? Interventions for maternal and child undernutrition and survival, The Lancet, pp. 41-64 DOI: 0.1016/S01406736(07)61693-6

Save the Children UK (2012) Infant and young child feeding in emergencies: why are we not delivering at scale? London: Save The Children. Available from: