Extraordinary People

How ‘mind over matter’ attitude turned girl’s life around after she was diagnosed with MS

Courtney Clarke, who at just 21, delivers charity work across the globe despite her own struggles.

We applaud philanthropists of the silver screen whenever Angelina Jolie or Leonardo DiCaprio go the extra mile to help, though what about the people living next door to us?

Please put your hands together for Courtney Clarke, who at just 21-years-old beat the odds after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis to deliver charity work across the globe.

Chatting to Uspire about her dreams of making a difference, Courtney said she hopes to spread awareness to other people about how we currently live and treat others.

Courtney said: “There can never be too many discussions about care for disabled people, nor the struggles of developing countries.

“I know it seems a huge task and I know I can’t fix it all, but I really feel spurred on all the time to try and make sure my drop in the ocean does something.”

With a biracial background, and raised in a single-parent, low-income home, Courtney used learning as a coping mechanism in an education system designed to see her fail.

She explained: “I achieved good grades at school, went to uni and got a first-class degree, despite missing half my second year due to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“I had a year of education to grapple with the fact I now had a blue disability badge, and I had to carefully plan where I spent my energy.”

Multiple sclerosis, known as MS, is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of problems with vision, arm or leg movement, and balance.

However, Courtney was determined that her diagnosis would not define her, and she went from struggling to walk to regaining strength and volunteering abroad, where she climbed waterfalls and found her true calling in helping others.

[Credit: Phab Nottingham]

She continued: “I’d like to show people that the sky really is the limit, and though it is not always true, ‘mind-over-matter’ can help quite a lot.

“I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t empathise with people I worked with before I got ill, but once I became ill and realised that there is something more to explain about myself, the fear of being seen as different, it really strikes a chord with me.

“People in need don’t get to choose what people see about them. I’d hope people would want to know my favourite song and favourite colour before they identify me as having MS, so I try to make sure that when I work with people, I know them as a person first.”

And Courtney’s philosophy is one she stands proudly by.

At just 17, Courtney visited Africa where she provided ‘mama packs’ – postnatal care bundles containing items such as umbilical cord clamps – for new mothers.

The Rwanda Sisterhood Association, who Courtney travelled with, also taught women in the local community how to knit, so they could knit blankets to keep their babies clean.

It was here, using her personal approach, that Courtney learned one of the women had a younger brother who had passed away and she gifted Courtney his bracelet.

The aspiring humanitarian has also visited Tanzania, where she worked with MEDLIFE to set up mobile medical clinics in impoverished areas. The organisation aims to respond specifically to what each local community needs as opposed to generic projects.

Courtney explained: “Around Moshi, we had an eye doctor who gave out glasses, and we built and furnished a school library.

“MEDLIFE uses local doctors to empower the communities to trust in their own healthcare systems to combat the reliance on ‘white saviour’ culture which is debilitating to developing countries. I also learned from one doctor that diabetes is such a prevalent issue, yet without having access to insulin their people’s vision worsens.”

Back in the UK, Courtney has worked at the Rainbow Parent and Carer Forum in Nottingham and Mencap Watford, who both care for young people with disabilities.

She has also completed a further two years on the committee for Phab Nottingham, a charity who run days out for young people with disabilities at venues that are accessible.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep the busy bee buzzing, Courtney also set up her own MEDLIFE society in Nottingham after she was left so inspired by their work; signing up 35 members of her own, organising a volunteer trip to Peru (which sadly was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic), and securing three high-profile fundraisers.

Asked what keeps her motivated, Courtney says her main objective is for people to feel they are “listened to”.

[Credit: MEDLIFE]

She explained: “I feel I get so involved with these different initiatives because I can make a difference by listening to people. I struggle very much to comprehend how we have people in government who make laws and dictate our living who do not have any knowledge or experience with the most vulnerable people in our country.

“On the flip side, I don’t want them to feel vulnerable. Working with teenagers with disabilities like autism has shown me that they just want to be like everyone else, and with the right support they absolutely are.

“Some of these kids are funnier, smarter, more dedicated than half of the people I know! I am inspired by them every time I see them. I suppose, then, that I want them to feel is empowered. Confidence and faith in your ability to achieve what you can is so important. Help is important, yes, but so is being understood and empowered.”

Courtney, who is based in Bristol, is now planning to study International Law and International Relations LLM next year as she wants to gain a better understanding of the current state of the world and the laws that international agencies have to abide by.

She concluded: “Having worked and volunteered with charities for three years now, I am very aware that this is the sector I want to proceed to work with.

“I want to work efficiently, especially now everything in the world is so interconnected and so many NGOs [non-governmental organisations] work internationally.

“Having always had an interest in politics, I also look forward to the International Relations side of the course, especially as diplomacy is appealing to me.”

Anyone in favour of having more Courtneys in the world, say aye.

Aye!

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