“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, knowledge is free.” Using Tagore’s famous words as a bridge, she then asked the crowd, “We must ask why? Why are certain sections of society so reluctant to engage in scientific research? Imagine the wonders this type of research could offer our communities by providing answers to unresolved questions such as: B. How likely is it that your child will develop the same disorder? You could help an impossibly large number of people by taking part in the future – by helping the innocent youth and the retired generation.”
Aiza was one of more than 30 A-Level 12th and 13th graders participating in Project Cardinal, a research project with the Wellcome Sanger Institute made possible by the charity Social Action for Health.
The event demonstrated the Center for Public Engagement’s support for community collaboration and the need to build intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue in the community, and was an opportunity and platform for young people and community members to share their insights, concerns and priorities in Exchange views on community health and discuss with the broader local community and academics. They also discussed their “priority areas” for public health issues.
Shuyeb Mohammed, 18, of Bow, stood next to a placard that read “Drug Use and Criminalization” and outlined which health priorities worried him the most. He said: “I saw a lack of investment in public health. I wanted to help the homeless.” Pointing to a picture of Bethnal Green Park, he explained, “It’s not an attractive place. People drink alcohol and make the area feel unsafe.” After attending 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 was warranted have and be able to address them.
Shuyeb was among a group of young adults who took part in a summer internship at Social Action for Health, which has worked with the university for more than 25 years. Through a series of workshops and focus groups, they distilled their findings into 10 health priorities.
Ceri Durham, CEO of Social Action for Health, said: “As a community-based health charity working with people most affected by health inequalities, it is critical for us to hear directly from 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 young people what their priorities are and what we can do to address them. Qualification opportunities and gaining professional experience were two topics that came up again and again. We were delighted to offer young people real opportunities to see their skills and confidence develop, and in turn to be able to learn so much from their insights. This event is the result of all their hard work and enthusiasm.”
CPE’s Community Engagement Manager Sarah Gifford said: “We constantly seek to innovate, push boundaries and create a mutually beneficial environment in which the University’s groundbreaking research, inspiring interdisciplinary teaching and work is designed, shared and co-created with our local communities as partners can become.
Students from Queen Mary and Beal High School shared their work on health inequalities and representation in medical and specifically genetic research. With the help of staff from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Social Action for Health and their teachers, the students researched these topics and presented their work in exhibition-style presentations at the event.
dr Jennifer Randall, Senior Lecturer in Global Public Health at the Wolfson Institute for Population Health and Student Experience Lead for Global Health, said: “The event also showcased Queen Mary students and our research and teaching on building confidence around 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 ability to work as bridges within local communities was one of our main motivations for the project.
We have found that young people have keen insight into the problems their communities face and compelling solutions to those problems. Tackling hopelessness through advocacy and activism training is our next step in blurring the lines between formal and informal classrooms.”
“It was an amazing experience. Our issues and concerns are heard and we are heard,” said Zahrah Awan, 17, of Beal High School, who wants to major in biochemistry and become a resident.
Beal High School Sixth Form Principal Jag Singh said: “It has been an honor and privilege to work with the Social Action for Health team. It was a great learning curve for our students interacting with industry experts. They have gained self-confidence and developed key skills. In addition, many of them now want to pursue a STEM degree. The experience inspired her 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 world’s largest community-based genetics studies aimed at improving the health of people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. Beal High School teachers welcomed Social Action for Health to the school to host Genes & Health recruitment booths and share lesson plans on health inequalities. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of students and staff, Social Action for Health returned to Beal with a team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and offered the students the opportunity to participate in Project Cardinal, where they developed projects on health inequalities and representation in genetics research.
Beal students Samarah Ali, Jean Bhudia and Atcheya Thiyagarajah used PowerPoint to design a 7-minute video showing an avatar of a South Asian woman wearing a sari to encourage ethnic minority communities to engage in conversations about genetic research .
Concluding her speech to the audience at Monday’s event, Aiza Rahman said: “A society of sheep begets a government of wolves. What I mean by that is…we must break down all barriers and shatter all norms for an already underrepresented minority.
“Sigmund Freud once said: We are slaves to our past. We shouldn’t let history influence how we act. Be the voice we need and imagine what we could achieve together.”