Edinburgh lawyer who helps others walk wins Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2015

Olivia Giles OBE

An Edinburgh lawyer who lost her hands and feet following a serious illness and then set up a charity to provide people in developing countries with prosthetic limbs so they can walk has been named winner of a global humanitarian award in honour of the Scots Bard.

Olivia Giles OBE was presented with the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA) 2015 at a special ceremony at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway – Robert Burns’ place of birth – by Europe and international development, minister Humza Yousaf.

The award – launched in 2002 recognises those who have saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or direct humanitarian work.

Olivia was selected as the winner from an incredible 120 nominations – the highest number ever received for the RBHA.

It was 13 years ago, after contracting meningitis and needing emergency surgery, that Olivia had to be told the devastating news that her hands and feet had been amputated to save her life.

Once back to full strength and very conscious how lucky she was to be alive, Olivia began to raise both money and awareness for the likes of the Meningitis Trust and other charities.

During this time, Olivia learned about the difficulties experienced by amputees in developing countries, who did not have access to the same kind of healthcare and support that she herself had experienced.

Instead, many of these people – including large numbers of children – were ostracised from their community and Olivia set out to tackle this by founding the charity, 500 miles, a mere five years’ after the loss of her hands and feet.

500 miles is all about supporting the development and delivery of prosthetic and orthotic services to people with impaired mobility in Malawi, Zambia and, to a lesser degree, in Zanzibar.

Thanks to Olivia’s efforts, 500 miles now has two centres in Malawi, run in cooperation with the Malawian Ministry of Health. Together, these centres now provide more than 1,650 devices each year to people who badly need them.

The charity also funds and subsidises people to receive prosthetic and orthotic devices in Zanzibar and Zambia. Olivia’s work for the charity was recognised in 2010 when she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty The Queen.

Olivia is in the throes of organising The BIG Dinner on 7 March 2015, when she aims to raise £500,000 on one night with hundreds of dinners held in homes and restaurants across the country and donations being pledged.

Olivia said: “I’m both shocked and overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the judges for this unexpected recognition. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to help out the people we work with and firmly believe that I got my second chance so I could help others get theirs.

“It’s impossible to describe how it feels when you see a young girl walk for the first time thanks to a prosthetic leg we’ve provided or to hear that men who had to depend on family and friends to get around are regaining some form of independence because they are now mobile. It really means the world and I’m very privileged to be part of that.

“As a proud Scotswoman, it’s a tremendous honour to receive the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award and I will continue to do all I can to live up to his beliefs of treating everyone as equals and working towards a fair and just society throughout the world.”

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