In 1999, a small group of healthcare students from Cardiff University began to develop a project, working with children in an orphanage in Belarus. They were shocked by the conditions they found there, but also aware that there were simple contributions they could make that would help improve the children’s quality of life. Each summer they would send out groups of students to provide manpower to support the care programs and recreational activities of the orphanage, as well as raising funds to supplement staff wages and the development of facilities at the orphanage.
The concept was simple; it was about students taking action now, at an undergraduate level, to support the health and welfare of vulnerable children.
It became apparent that the students had the capacity and perseverance to drive the development of such a project, and the orphanage as well as the students flourished through this process. This realisation drove the initial creation of SKIP (Students for Kids International Projects); a vision where healthcare students throughout the UK would learn to develop projects in conjunction with local overseas collaborating organisations, aimed at improving the lives of children and their communities.
In Autumn 2002 the concept was presented at a national medical students conference at the University of Birmingham. From that day the first official branch of SKIP was born, and they began to research the development of a new project that would try to meet the ideals and evolving ethos that was SKIP. A few months later a group of students from the University of Birmingham went to Zambia to begin to research suitable projects. That summer, in 2003, fifty volunteers travelled to Kanakantapa, Zambia to assist a local organisation in developing two community schools.
It was at this stage that the ethos of SKIP began to thrive. It became less of a concept and more a set of moral and ethical codes by which projects should attempt to run. The projects sought to be sustainable and to integrate with the local communities, empowering them to support the health, welfare and education of their children. At the same time, we also began to focus on encouraging multi-disciplinary teamwork, personal and professional development and a greater understanding of international health amongst our student volunteers.
We wanted not only to improve the lives of the children, but to create healthcare professionals who would go on to become advocates for international health and child welfare.
In late 2003, SKIP became an officially registered UK charity and in 2004 alumni of the schemes in Birmingham and Cardiff collaborated to develop a National Committee, to unite the concepts and the charity under one banner. By the autumn of 2005, the first SKIP National Conference was held and new branches were recruited to begin the development of their own projects. Students from universities across the country began needs assessment trips and pilot projects over the coming two years and by 2007 SKIP had several established projects taking place around the world.
SKIP had grown faster than anyone had expected.
As a fully voluntary organisation, run entirely by students, we began to struggle under the strain of supporting and regulating so many projects. It became apparent that the simple national infrastructure, of an advisory national committee made up of annually elected students, was not sufficient to provide the long-term continuity and retention of knowledge and experience the organisation craved.
In Autumn 2007, the SKIP Trustees were created; a governing body and supporting alumni who had several years experience and knowledge that could be utilised to guide and support the national committee, branches and projects as well as to make difficult and complex decisions about the charities growth, ethical behaviours and critical events.
As SKIP and our associated projects continued to grow it became clear that a stricter system of internal governance would be needed to ensure that projects stayed on track and in line with ethical codes and volunteer limitations. It was during this time that SKIP entered a new phase of organisational development.
We wanted the branches to take greater ownership and responsibility for the rules that governed them and for experiences from on the ground, out on projects, to translate directly into national policy making.
By 2008, our constitution was revised and a new system of bylaws was launched where all branch, national committee and executive board members would work together to develop and govern them. From naïve and humble beginnings, SKIP has weathered some confusing and difficult times, but is now emerging with a stronger sense of identity and unity and a firmer system of morals and ethics than ever before.
To date SKIP has continued to grow in both size and enthusiasm. We currently have ten active branches reaching and positively impacting on the lives of vulnerable children across Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. We hold General Assemblies each year at which bylaws and national policy are debated and laid down, as well as two Big Weekends, where training and information sharing between projects occurs. Since 2012 we have had a fully elected board of Trustees to replace the previous Executive Board. In 2013, we had applications from two new branches, in Sheffield and Belfast, looking to join the SKIP family and develop their own projects within this family.
We believe that SKIP will continue to grow from strength to strength; contributing to health, welfare and education of vulnerable children around the globe, whilst developing empowered, internationally aware and empathetic professionals for the future.