Rathaven Guna has his medical finals coming up in just over six months and is understandably incredibly focused on fulfilling his dream of qualifying as a doctor. However, he has to more to juggle than your typical medical student because Rathaven has a three year old charity that needs running. Rathaven officially established The Little things in 2015 and has seen the charity go from strength to strength ever since. Here, he tell us the story so far…
What inspired you to start up the charity in the first place?
In August 2013, I returned from a trip to Tanzania where I spent half my time climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and the other half volunteering in St. Elizabeth Hospital, Arusha. I saw plenty of needless suffering at the hospital and I wished I could do something more than observe. I returned to the UK determined to provide St Elizabeth Hospital with the funds they desperately needed.
What is the charity’s aim?
The aim is to improve healthcare in developing countries. By providing medical equipment to poorly funded and inadequately equipped hospitals, we hope to improve access to healthcare. We plan on achieving this by conducting an annual healthcare project. Following a needs-based assessment, we raise funds throughout the year to purchase equipment. We strive to ensure our work has a sustainable impact and so we implement strategies to ensure training is provided for the hospital staff, along with regular after-sales maintenance of our equipment.
What did your family say when you told them your plans to set up a charity?
I would have to put their response into context first. My father is my most inspirational figure. He was born in adversity and has constantly overcome obstacles. What he has managed to achieve in his lifetime is truly remarkable. He remains a pillar of strength, not just for my family, but for our Sri Lankan community too. Fortunately, I believe that I have inherited his will of fire. In his youth, he aspired to pursue a career in medicine, but due to an unfortunate series of events, he could not.
During my A-Levels, I was inspired to apply for medical school after a work experience placement at Hillingdon Hospital. Fortunately, I obtained two offers for Medical School but I grew complacent and arrogant in preparation for my A-Level exams, and as a result only scored A*,B,B. I missed the offers I had received. My family and I were distraught and it was the first (and hopefully only) time in my life that I cracked as a person. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” – It was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way.
Eventually, I pulled myself together and I decided to take a detour on my journey to becoming a doctor. I studied biomedical science for three years at the University of Kent, and the Canterbury tales will forever be treasured as one of my fondest memories. I applied for medical school as a graduate student and secured a place at Manchester Medical School. My family cried with tears of joy, but the joy was tainted with the memory of my first missed attempt. I knew I could not repeat the same mistake.
It was as I was entering my final year of biomedical science that I decided to start up The Little Things. Talk about timing! When I eventually informed my parents of my plans to start up the charity, they were hesitant. They knew my heart was in the right place, but were concerned for my academics.
It took plenty of reassuring, and it was not until the completion of our first healthcare project in Tanzania, which coincided with the end of my first year of medical school, that my parents’ fear abated. Thankfully, the journey from the onset of The Little Things has been relatively smooth. With medical school finals looming in January 2019, I am keeping that priority at the top of my list over the next few months.
How does the charity raise funds?
The Little Things mainly reaches out to university students for funding. We organise exhilarating fundraising events such as skydiving and mountain treks for students to partake in. The Little Things has recently widened its reach by focusing more on appealing for corporate grants, support from schools and the local community. Fortunately, I have a dedicated, passionate and dependable team of volunteers, without whom our story would not be possible.
What projects have The Little Things completed in its journey so far?
Following our registration with the Charity Commission in May 2015, we have thus far managed to successfully complete four healthcare projects:
- In July 2015, the first project was completed – funding an eye clinic in Arusha, Tanzania. Surgical and diagnostic equipment necessary for the successful running of an eye clinic were installed in St. Elizabeth Hospital, Arusha.
- In July 2016, we managed to complete our second project – equipping a premature baby clinic for Kilinochchi District General Hospital, Sri Lanka.
- In August 2017, we completed our third healthcare project by providing vital medical equipment for two hospitals within the Northern Province of Sri Lanka – Base Hospital Point Pedro and Base Hospital Tellippalai.
- In June 2018, we supported Tamakoshi Co-operative Hospital in Manthali, Nepal for our fourth healthcare project. We provided the hospital with specialist cardiology and gastroenterology equipment so that the local population of Manthali, and the surrounding districts, can access basic investigations without having to travel lengthy distances to Kathmandu for these vital procedures.
Tips to current students who want to make a difference to the world like yourself?
My main advice is to persevere. Cherish the good times and be patient through the bad ones. Obstacles will inevitably present themselves, and it is important to prove your tenacity by overcoming the obstacle without letting it overcome you. It’s easy when doing humanitarian work to feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of the sheer volume of the global problem. However, it is essential to maintain perspective and play your part effectively. I often refer back to a quote that I find comforting, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop”.
For more information, please visit: www.thelittlethings.org.uk
Alternatively, please visit www.facebook.com/thelittlethingscharity