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OPINION

The little things that make a big difference

Rathaven Gunaratnarajah

There are 800,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers set to rise to 1.7 million by 2050. But awareness is rising too: at the University alone we have 1,274 Dementia Friends and 32 Champions, as well as the government's dementia tsar, Professor Alistair Burns, Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs in our Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences. Six years after the national dementia strategy was published, PhD student Clarissa Giebel looks at how far we still have to go to improve the lives of those affected by the disease.

Overwhelmed by the disparity between health care in the UK and in developing countries, Rathaven Gunaratnarajah talks about setting up his own charity to fund medical projects in Tanzania.

After successfully scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in 2013, I spent a week volunteering at the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. Hospital staff told me about plans for a clinic to provide care for the numerous eye disease patients, but said they were unable to do so due to a lack of funding.

Many patients travel huge distances to the hospital, and when they get there, there are few treatment options. This is particularly pertinent in terms of eye diseases, which are extremely common in Arusha – although they can be easy to treat, patients have very limited access to medication.

It was then I decided to take action. I looked into raising funds for existing charities, but decided that if I set up my own charity, I could personally identify the specific areas I thought could most use support, and make sure the money raised went directly to them.

Once the seed was planted, I couldn't stop dreaming about setting up my own charity to help the very people I'd seen in Arusha. Within weeks, I'd named it 'The Little Things', and worked tirelessly towards registering the charity and establishing a fundraising network.

My ethos for The Little Things is simple. I want to run a charity with as few overheads as possible – I don't want the donations people have given to go into staff salaries – so I decided to see how far I could take a charity that is run solely by volunteers. It's working well so far, two and a half years in! I'm passionate about ensuring any money raised is spent in the most effective way to benefit the people. That's why before starting any of our projects, a team from The Little Things will go out and scout the area to assess people's needs and establish the kind of project that will be most beneficial to the community.

It's been hard work, but I've had a great time so far – I've been fortunate enough to have lots of opportunities for travel and adventure, which I love. The Little Things combines my passion for travelling with my desire to help people, and my skills as a medic – it's perfect!

Since its conception in 2013, The Little Things has been a great success – the eye clinic I dreamed of in Arusha is up and running, and we've raised over £50,000 to date.

We're now focusing on fundraising for two more hospitals, setting up a premature baby clinic and purchasing an MRI scanner for a district hospital in Sri Lanka.

Rathaven Gunaratnarajah - Medical undergraduate at Manchester Medical School. To find out more visit: www.thelittlethings.org.uk

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