– Queen Mary University of London

Published on:

“Where the mind is fearless and the head is held high, this is where knowledge is free.” Using Tagore’s famous words as a bridge, he then asked the crowd: “We must ask why? Why are some sectors of society so reluctant towards scientific research? Imagine the wonders this type of research could bring to our communities, yielding answers to unanswered questions like what are the chances of your child developing the same disorder? You could help an unimaginable number of people by participating in the future, by helping innocent young people and the retirement generation.”

Aiza was one of more than 30 A-Levels in grades 12 and 13 who participated in ‘Project Cardinal’, a research project with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, sponsored by the charity Social Action for Health.

Demonstrating the Center for Public Engagement’s support for community partnerships and the need to establish intergenerational and cross-cultural community dialogue, the event was an opportunity and platform for youth and community members to share their insights, concerns and community health priorities and discuss them with the wider local community and academics. They also discussed their “priority areas” for public health issues.

Standing next to a poster titled “Drug Use and Criminalization,” Shuyeb Mohammed, 18, of Bow, outlined which healthcare priority concerned him the most. He said: “I have seen a lack of investment in public health. I wanted to help the homeless.” Pointing to a photo of Bethnal Green Park, he said: “It’s not an attractive place to go. People are drinking alcohol and it makes the area unsafe.” After participating in focus groups to discuss public health issues with members of the Somali and Bangladeshi communities, he said he felt a broader understanding of the issues and was empowered to address them.

Shuyeb was one of a group of young adults who took part in a summer internship with Social Action for Health, which has been working with the university for more than 25 years. Through a series of workshops and focus groups, they distilled their findings into 10 healthcare priorities.

Ceri Durham, CEO of Social Action for Healthshe said: “As a community-based health charity working with those most affected by health inequalities, it is vital for us to listen directly to our beneficiaries and listen to their priorities. When we noticed that young people were missing from these conversations, we wanted to do something about it. So, we asked local youth what their priorities were and what we could do to address them. Opportunities to acquire skills and gain work experience were two themes that surfaced repeatedly. We have been delighted to provide genuine opportunities for young people, to see their skills and confidence develop and, in turn, to be able to learn so much from their insights. This event is the product of all their hard work and enthusiasm.”

Sarah Gifford, Community Engagement Manager at CPE, said: “We constantly seek to break the mold, push boundaries and create a mutually beneficial environment where the University’s innovative research, inspiring interdisciplinary teaching and work can be shaped, shared and co-created with our local communities as partners .

Students from Queen Mary and Beal High School shared their work on health inequalities and representation in medical research, particularly genetics. With the support of Wellcome Sanger Institute staff, Social Action for Health, and their teachers, students researched these topics and presented their work in expository-style presentations throughout the event.

Wolfson Institute for Population Health Senior Lecturer in Global Public Health and Student Experience Lead for Global Health Dr Jennifer Randall said: “The event also showcased students at Queen Mary and our research and teaching on building trust in relation to vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic. Our students’ collaboration with the local community has been a unique opportunity to expand our classroom. Involving young people in the research process and building their capacity to work as bridges within local communities has been one of our main motivations for the project.

We’ve found that young people have keen insight into the problems facing their communities, as well as powerful solutions to those problems. Fighting despair through advocacy and activism training is our next step in blurring the lines between formal and informal classrooms.”

“It was an amazing experience. Our problems and concerns are heard and we are heard,” said Zahrah Awan, 17, of Beal High School, who plans to study biochemistry and become an associate physician.

Jag Singh, sixth form director at Beal High School, said, “It has been an honor and a privilege to work with the Social Action for Health team. It has been a huge learning curve for our students to interact with industry experts. They grew in confidence and developed key skills along the way. Also, many of them now want to pursue STEM-based degrees. The experience inspired their next steps.

Social Action for Health first contacted Beal High School as part of their outreach work for the Genes & Health research study, one of the largest community-based genetic studies in the world that aims to improve health among people of Pakistani and Bengali descent. Beal High School teachers have welcomed Social Action for Health into the school to hold Genes & Health recruiting desks and share lesson plans on health inequalities. Buoyed by student and staff enthusiasm, Social Action for Health returned to Beal with a team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute offering students the opportunity to take part in Project Cardinal, where they developed projects on health inequalities and research representation genetics.

Beal students Samarah Ali, Jean Bhudia and Atcheya Thiyagarajah used PowerPoint to design a 7-minute video featuring an avatar of a South Asian woman wearing a sari to encourage ethnic minority communities to engage in research conversations genetics.

Concluding her address to the audience at Monday’s event, Aiza Rahman said, “A society of sheep breeds a government of wolves. Now what I mean by that is… we need to break all barriers and break all norms for an already underrepresented minority.

Sigmund Freud once said: We are slaves to our past. We should not let history manipulate the way we act. Be the voice we need and just imagine what we could achieve together.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: