Master of Public Health students awarded community impact grants

Three Master of Public Health students will soon be leading projects to prevent child deaths from diarrhoea in Malawi, improve the mental health of earthquake survivors in Indonesia, and raise awareness of safe sex among young people in rural Kenya.

They are among four Australia Awards scholars named as 2018 recipients of the University of Melbourne Student Engagement Grant Program.

Student Engagement Grants support initiatives led by students in their local, national or international community. They enable the implementation of activities which create a constructive community impact, and which address important social, economic, environmental or cultural issues.

Febbie Tambala, Master of Public Health, Malawi

MPH student Febbie Tambala

Capacity Building in Rural Malawi: Tippy-taps and Reusable Sanitary Pads Skills Workshop

Febbie is passionate about health education and her project is based on capacity building through skills transfer, which she believes is the best way to enable people in disadvantaged communities to improve their quality of life. She will work with a remote school in Malawi to teach children how to install Tippy-Taps, a hands-free way of washing hands. Tippy-Taps are operated by foot and a lever to reduce bacteria transmission and promote handwashing in areas without running water. The aim is to prevent diarrhoea diseases, one of the major causes of death among children in Malawi. Febbie has also connected with the school’s Parental Teachers Association to encourage the installation of Tippy-Taps in students’ homes.

The second part of the project involves the provision of sewing machines and a workshop to teach over 100 adolescent girls to make reusable sanitary pads for their own use and to sell in the community. The aim is to promote hygiene and prevent school dropout among girls, which occurs due to lack of resources. Febbie seeks to advance health literacy among women and girls, and to equip them with the knowledge and skills to stay healthy and be self-reliant.

Febbie hopes to continue working with underdeveloped communities in Malawi after completing her studies, especially with women, adolescents and those with disabilities. In Australia, she has volunteered with Community Health Advancement and Student Engagement (CHASE) to improve health literacy amongst disadvantaged youth through education and mentoring.

Rana Islamiah Zahroh, Master of Public Health, Indonesia

MPH student Rana Zahroh

Heading Up to Mental Health Awareness on Common Society

Having worked in West Nusa Tenggara for the past three years, Rana has heard many accounts of how greatly people have been affected by the earthquakes in recent months, not only physically but mentally. She applied for a Student Engagement Grant to increase mental health awareness and establish a system of care for communities. Rana will work with the District Health Office of Northern Lombok and THESE Initiatives, a non-profit organisation that empowers rural and vulnerable communities in Indonesia to achieve universal equity in technology, health, education, social cohesion and environment.

Rana’s project launches in January 2019 and will deliver workshops by psychologists and natural disaster experts. These aim to educate the community and health workers on the ways in which natural disaster can impact mental health, and how disorders may be prevented, detected and managed at an early stage. The project will target three impacted villages, covering approximately 42 sub-villages.

Rana’s goal is to formulate solutions to reform the Indonesian healthcare system. She is passionate about improving access of decision support tools and the quality of health services, particularly for women and children.

Sharon Mweni, Master of Public Health, Kenya

MPH student Sharon Mweni

Sexual and Reproductive Youth-friendly Services

Sharon’s project aims to increase awareness, accessibility and utilisation of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to promote safe sexual practices among youth at a hospital in rural Kenya. This involves the creation of a youth-friendly SRH clinic and an information website, based on Sharon’s observation that many youths do not currently utilise SRH services due to a lack of privacy and separation from adult services. The youth-friendly clinic offers HIV testing and counselling, screening for sexually transmitted infection, and aims to increase contraceptive uptake and promote safe sexual practices among this population.

Sharon travelled to Kenya in November to work with her team from the hospital to organise a soccer tournament. This activity brought together youth in the community and connected them with youth champions of the youth-friendly clinic, providing a suitable environment to raise awareness of SRH services.

Since arriving in Melbourne in 2017, Sharon has grasped opportunities to develop her expertise in global health and contribute to her community. She received a scholarship offered by the Doherty Institute to attend the Communicable Diseases Control Conference and has volunteered with organisations including Dementia Australia and Koala Kids Foundation.

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