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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 26 May, 2019

‘It's something they'll hopefully keep up for life’: Why this teacher is encouraging students to give blood

Thérèse Glennon says that young people have a huge capacity for caring.

Source: giveblood/YouTube

‘IT’S SO IMPORTANT that we educate our young people in secondary school’, urges Thérèse Glennon, a teacher at Pobalscoil Neasáin who is pioneering the idea that if we want to get more people donating blood, it needs to start early. 

When the video you see above was released, the mother of one of the students got in touch with her daughter’s teacher Miss Glennon. The mother explained that a blood transfusion had saved her own life the day that she gave birth to her daughter, and how wonderful it was to see her daughter featured in it.

It’s just one real-life example of how that in an average class of 30 students, 7-8 of those students will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime. However statistically, only one in those 30 is currently donating.

It’s a fact that Miss Glennon, or Thérèse to those outside her class, knows all too well:  

My mum always gave blood throughout my life and now she relies on donations for her own health. My best friend also needed blood after giving birth, so you just never know when you’ll need it.

In Pobalscoil Neasáin where Thérèse teaches English and Religion, she’s not the only member of staff who is passionate about giving blood:

It’s a huge focus in our school – we have signs on the door of each classroom with the teacher’s name and blood type. We also have signs throughout the school to get students to ask about it. 

Image from iOS (5) Source: Thérèse Glennon

And the students’ reaction to it has been astounding – the school has given 25 pints of blood so far. Each year Thérèse speaks at sixth year assemblies to appeal to students that are 18 and later in the year, brings them for a meal in town before they go and donate at the D’Olier Street clinic together.

Students can get such a bad rap in the press but I am always saying how amazing they are. I’ve had fourth years coming up to me saying that they can’t wait until they turn 18 and students tweeting me during the summer to tell me they donated. They give me such pride.

“It’s so important to start off an early habit that they’ll hopefully keep up for life”, shares Thérèse, who reminds that the earlier that you start donating, the more blood that you can give over your lifetime.

“Young people have a huge capacity for caring, charity and social justice. They want to stand up for what’s right” shares Thérèse. “They’ll come and tell me afterwards when they get the text about where their blood is used and I always like hearing about it.” It’s had such an impact that some have even written about donating in their English exams.

As a teacher, she feels both extremely lucky and responsible for inspiring the next generation to donate: “We’ve responsibility to educate for life. I’m so lucky in my job, I’m helping students to take ownership of the power that they have.”

5988 Thérèse with her students at Pobalscoil Neasáin Source: IBTS

The walls in Thérèse’s classroom are decorated with photographs of students giving blood and laminated signs to “ask Miss Glennon about giving blood” – something her younger students often do. She says that they will often recruit their girlfriends and boyfriends from other schools to donate too, and use social media to spread the word.

And the one question all of her students have? “Will it hurt – that’s always the number one question”, laughs Thérèse. “I’m such a baby it’s unbelievable, it doesn’t hurt at all because the IBTS staff are doing it all day everyday. It’s a little pinch and look what great it does.”

So, what can we do to empower such a caring generation to give back? IBTS have created a School Education Pack (which Thérèse’s school helped to launch) to help teachers inform their students about becoming donors “and start the conversation”:

It lays out lessons about what you should discuss and why donation is so important, and why people can or cannot donate. It also highlights that one in four will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime yet only 3% of the eligible population donate. 

The second thing teachers and youth workers can do is to book a donation appointment: “It’s important that you’re talking from experience and can alleviate their fears”. You can encourage your students to do IBTS’ eligibility quiz or get in touch with the IBTS for advice on how to get things started it in your school.

“What really makes a difference is bringing them in to a clinic and starting off that tradition in our school”, says Thérèse. When she last visited with her students, one of the nurses revealed that there had been a bad accident in their area – something that really made things feel real for them.

“One of the kids was O negative which is the universal donor type that can be safely used for newborn babies, and I overheard them saying don’t tell Miss Glennon, we’ll never hear the end of it”, laughs Thérèse.

Her advice to students looking to donate is simple:

Drink loads of water the night before and the day of donation. Get someone to keep an eye on you just in case you feel weak after your first donation and support each other – not everyone gets to donate everytime so it can be disappointing. But just keep going back.

“You’re giving them agency over their own bodies to make that decision to donate and reminding them that they can do such a fantastic thing.”

Thérèse’s story is just one of the IBTS’  Every One Counts campaign, which shows how blood donors around Ireland support small communities by donating blood. Some 3,000 donations are needed each week in Ireland to keep up with the demand and 67% of donated units of blood are used to help patients to fight cancer. 

Visit giveblood.ie to find out where and whether you can donate. Schools can obtain an information pack by downloading it from here, calling 1850 731137 or by emailing contactus@ibts.ie.

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