OU student Gina Awad was described as average by her school teachers, something which has haunted her over the years. But her complete dedication to raising awareness of dementia within her home community of Exeter has seen her receive a string of commendations for ‘outstanding work’. She’s not so average now…
Gina created the Exeter Dementia Action Alliance (EDAA) in 2015 and has trekked the Great Wall of China to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, in addition to receiving a Pride of Devon award in 2015 and achieving the national finals of the Dementia Friendly Awards for her ‘outstanding contribution to dementia friendly communities’.
She is a ‘Dementia Friends’ champion, an Alzheimer's Society-led initiative, having run more than 80 local information sessions. And just this month she achieved the Lord Mayor of Exeter’s Commendation for her voluntary work. She said:
I’m passionate about raising awareness of dementia, which may touch all of us in one way or another in the future, and I feel that people everywhere – including those in government – are taking heed of what is the biggest health and social care challenge of this century.
“It was fear that prompted me to study dementia. My grandmother delivered creative arts classes in care homes when I was a child and I used to accompany her to the sessions with my sister.
"During my visits, I noticed that some people were very engaged in what was going on, but there were others who weren’t. I was quite afraid and I now realise they were living with dementia.”
'I realised I couldn't do either'
As well as campaigning to raise awareness, including hosting a local radio show 'Living Better with Dementia' and appearing in video broadcasts, Gina is an OU student. She’ll graduate next year with a BA (Hons) in Health and Social Care.
“I’ve always been interested in the human mind and it was a friend who first introduced me to the OU in 2009 when she was studying K101 An introduction to health and social care. She thought I would enjoy the content and structure of this module so encouraged me to register – which I did.
"I didn’t initially envisage taking a degree path as I thought this would be too much for me, but five years later here I am on my sixth module.”
During a difficult period, Gina’s family advised her to give up her studies or her dementia awareness work.
“I realised I couldn’t do either. The thought of the graduation ceremony for my diploma inspired me to continue with my studies and experience what it would be like to collect my degree award. One module in particular has also kept me going: K235 Dementia care.
"It has been the catalyst for everything I’ve achieved in the area of raising awareness of dementia in my home city of Exeter.”