Third Sector Awards 2016: Volunteer of the Year - Winner: Sarah Ezekiel, Motor Neurone Disease Association

Third Sector Promotion Markel

Awarded to the volunteer who has displayed the greatest commitment to and achievement with a charity or voluntary sector organisation over the past year

Sarah Ezekiel

How did she get involved with the charity?

Ezekiel was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2000 when she was seven months pregnant with her second child. After her diagnosis, she became involved in the North West London Branch of the MND Association. She is now the branch secretary and, with the help of an Eyegaze communication aid, she is able to speak, write and even paint artwork using only her eyes.

What has she done?

In 2009, she was the centre of an awareness campaign for the association. The campaign included a 90-second film to convey the emotional impact of receiving a diagnosis of MND and tells the story of a young woman who is suddenly "attacked" by MND. An actress plays the part of Ezekiel and, as her body deteriorates, the actress's head is superimposed on the body of Ezekiel.

It was the first-ever broadcast advert in the UK created to raise awareness of MND and was shown at cinemas throughout England and Wales.

Has she also lobbied politicians?

In March 2014, Ezekiel attended the Labour Party councillor conference with the association, where she spoke to local politicians about the necessity for councils to provide care and support in a timely manner for people living with MND. She also lobbied national politicians, including then Labour leader Ed Miliband. At her meeting with Miliband, Ezekiel slowly typed "I'm a big fan" with her eyes and took a selfie of them using her communication aid.

In January 2015, Ezekiel spoke at the launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the MND Association’s report Condemned to Silence, which revealed significant delays in the provision of communication equipment for people living with the disease. And in March 2016, she spoke at a reception in parliament celebrating the work of hospices, which was attended by more than 100 clinicians.

What did the judges say?

Rachael Stokes, head of volunteering for development at VSO, says: "I cannot begin to imagine some of the challenges Ezekiel has faced and overcome since her diagnosis, but her determination and conviction in the face of adversity is inspiring. She truly is an incredible woman."

Highly commended

Hannah Goodwin, Campaign Against Living Miserably

Sam Greatrex, Macmillan Cancer Support


Sarah Earl, Sidcup Gingerbread Group

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