On 24 June 2013, the Carmarthenshire Learning Festival Group, in conjunction with NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) Dysgu Cymru, held their annual Learner and Tutor Awards at Llanellli Library. The event was an opportunity for learners and tutors to gain recognition for their efforts and demonstrate their commitment to learning.

Higher Education (HE) Diploma in ICT: Web Design and Multimedia graduate Fiona Evans was the successful recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Inspire Learner Award 2013.

While today was a happy day of celebration for 48 year old  Fiona, from Llanelli, and her family her return to learning came about after overcoming adversity and personal challenges.

In December 2007, Fiona, who has Crohn’s disease, had to have a leg amputated in an unexpected emergency procedure, due to secondary complications caused by the disease. She suffered a further double blow with the deaths of her mother, who she had been caring for, and her brother in the period shortly after the amputation.

Following the end of her hospital treatment and rehabilitation, which included an artificial limb, Fiona became a member of the Dyfed Amputee Self-Help Group (DASH).

But she was still coming to terms with the recent bereavements and limb loss when, in October 2008, she began a one-day-a-week community-based course offered by the Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE), at Menter Cwm Gwendraeth Community Centre in Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire.

Fiona had studied for a degree in Art and Theories of Art many years ago and had some experience of higher education, but said she was looking for something positive to focus on after her experiences, which would give her a new interest and a new challenge.

“When you’ve been through something traumatic like losing a limb, you can feel very isolated, and you need something positive to focus on and which will give you your confidence back,” she said.

“DACE’s community-based course was very flexible and enabled me to study and further my skills, around the challenges I was facing at the time.”

As part of the Web Design and Multimedia course work, Fiona brought both her DASH and DACE interests together and used her newly-acquired skills to develop a much-needed website for the community support group.

And the new site has enabled DASH to raise funds selling wristbands, and Fiona has also used the Internet’s social networking capability, through Facebook, to reach out to other amputees all over the world.

Fiona said: “Using the skills I had learned on my course, I created two websites using both Dreamweaver and Joomla software, and DASH then decided to use the Joomla website to promote our support group.

“This sort of website is essential to our members – both local and online. As an amputee myself, I know how isolating this situation can be. All lower limb amputees will experience immobility to a lesser or greater extent for at least a period of time. This sort of website means that amputees will be able to access our site and engage with others who can truly empathise with them.”

In addition to celebrating the successful completion of her course at the Winter Degree and Award Congregations, Fiona was appointed Chair of DASH.

“DASH now has 30 local members and a growing number of online members too – something I’m very proud to be part of,” added Fiona.

“I feel I’ve been able to give something back to the group, which offered me support during some very difficult times.

“But I am now enjoying life and looking at my options for the future, which will include making the most of the skills I’ve learned over the last four years, and may possibly include further study.”

Professor Colin Trotman, Director of DACE at Swansea University, said: “Fiona is a committed, inspirational student who is thoroughly deserving of this prestigious award. She has overcome significant personal challenges to successfully complete her part-time studies in a community-based setting, and is already making a positive impact through the utilisation of her new-found ICT skills. We wish Fiona every success in her future endeavours.”

 For more information on DASH visit the website at http://www.dyfedamputees-dashgroup.org.uk/, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dyfed-Amputee-Self-help-Group/258603340861146.