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Student nurse puts experience to good use during life-changing trip to The Jungle
10/05/2016

A student nurse has put the skills and knowledge she has developed at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) to good use after helping hundreds of desperate refugees during a “life-changing” trip in ‘The Jungle’ in Calais.

Kezi Mellen, who in the third year of her mental health nursing degree, recently gave up her annual leave to provide first aid to asylum seekers living in the camp in France. There she treated everything from trench foot to broken legs, using a mish-mash of donated bandages and medicines, while at the same time drawing on her mental health training to provide vital emotional support.

Kezi decided to go into mental health nursing after working on NSFT wards as a healthcare assistant, and the 22-year-old has spoken of her experiences in Calais in the run up to International Nurses’ Day, on 12 May in the hope that her story will inspire others to give up some of their free time to help those in need.

“I first became interested in Calais last spring after reading a newspaper article which referred to migrants escaping conflict as a ‘swarm’ and called them ‘cockroaches’,” said Kezi, who is studying at University Campus Suffolk. “It nearly brought me to tears – I couldn’t believe that anyone could refer to other people in that less than human way.

“I wanted to channel my anger in a positive way, so decided to start collecting donations to help, before travelling to Calais as a volunteer.

“I worked with a GP and two nurses, and we provided first aid to a steady stream of people. I dressed numerous cuts, irrigated inflamed tear-gassed eyes and peered down many sore throats. Although I was primarily providing physical healthcare, a lot of the people we were helping were anxious or depressed, so it was nice that I was able to draw on the interpersonal skills I’ve developed at NSFT when I was treating them.

“The Jungle is a very stressful and surreal place and the people have often escaped from very difficult situations, so there is a real need for mental health support. I was pleased that I was able to be a friendly face amongst all of the trauma.”

While offering treatment, Kezi listened to scores of tragic stories, including people who made perilous ocean crossings in rubber boats to escape the Taliban and a man who developed trenchfoot after walking 200 miles from Paris to Calais in wet shoes. Another patient – a 15-year-old boy – was suffering a suspected broken leg following a clash with the police.

“Many were under 18, scared, and risking their lives every evening trying to board a lorry for a better life in Britain,” added Kezi, who has recently completed a placement with the Complexity in Later Life team, at Mariner House, in Ipswich. “I heard stories of people’s journeys and struggles, running away and helping their brothers, mothers and children to escape. It was humbling to be in the presence of such heroes.

“My time working in The Jungle was challenging, but also very rewarding. It gave me a great perspective on the realities of the situation and on life in general, and I would certainly encourage others to get involved.”

After finishing her degree next January, Kezi hopes to return to Calais while also fulfilling her dream of securing a full-time job on an adult acute mental health ward.

She added: “I’ve completed lots of different placements across NSFT since beginning my degree, and have really enjoyed the variety. Acute adult wards are really fast-paced and challenging, but also incredibly interesting. Seeing people progress and recover and helping them on that journey is so rewarding.”

Deputy Director of Nursing at NSFT Dawn Collins said: “Kezi is truly inspirational. She has been motivated to visit people in Calais to provide support and care to those who are desperate need. Kezi embodies what it is to be a nurse and I think praise needs to be given for her actions. I am sure once she has qualified she will make a fantastic nurse.

“Nurses are often the unsung heroes working with people from birth to death, knowing what their patients and our communities need. They have often been described as the glue that holds the healthcare system together, and I can’t say any more than that.”