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Innovative Public Engagement: 2016 Small Grants Scheme Awardees

By Rebecca Tremain.

We are pleased to announce the recipients of the second year of funding for the Small Grants Scheme for Public Engagement. The scheme, open to staff and research degree students in the Faculty of Infectious & Tropical Diseases, saw over twice as many applications this year and with support from Faculty funding was able to fund projects from all four Departments within the Faculty. “I am really glad that our department has joined this excellent initiative” commented Dave Conway, Head of the Department of Pathogen Molecular Biology. “Engaging people in different communities to understand the biological mechanisms of disease is very important, and communicating ideas that come from laboratory based research is an essential aspect.”

Philippe Mayaud, Head of the Department of Clinical Research and one of the pioneers of the Small Grants Scheme said “the Department is delighted to continue supporting the small grants Public Engagement Scheme this year, following on last year’s good success”. Fellow Scheme pioneer and Head of the Department of Disease Control Joanna Schellenberg further expressed that “Public engagement is starting to be embedded in the culture of my Department and across the Faculty, which is very exciting”.

Successful applicants will be engaging public audiences in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Malawi, Mexico and the UK on a diverse range of health issues using creative and informative tools:

Sarah Burr (Lecturer): “Madzi ndi moyo! (Water is life!)”
In Malawi, Sarah aims to engage school children as “Citizen Scientists” to raise awareness of health and environmental problems associated with river pollution. Working with the City of Blantyre branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM), the children will test local river water for markers of pollution to determine whether the river water is safe to drink and bathe in and then publicize their findings in the local community through WESM links. Her hope is that these findings will inspire local residents and government officials to discuss lasting solutions to river pollution.

Maria Zuurmond (Research Fellow): “Hear our Voices”
Working with her partners, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the CBM: an International Disability Organisation, Maria will use community radio as a bridge for engaging with the public on cerebral palsy.  She will involve support groups for caregivers of children with cerebral palsy in planning a radio programme that will broadcast across at least four sites, in three different languages with learning shared between the groups through a social media platform. Of the potential project impact Maria said: “The community radio engagement with caregivers of children with cerebral palsy will serve as a platform to give them the opportunity to be heard; it will provide them [with] space to talk about their difficulties and challenges.”

Ailie Robinson (Scientific Officer & Research Degree Student): “Focus on the Microcosmos: unfolding the past and present of diagnostics”
Ailie will engage UK school children about tools for malaria research and intervention from the past and present contained in the Wellcome Collection and the School’s own Archives and Malaria Reference Laboratory. Using an innovative new tool called a Foldscope, Ailie will guide the school children in to the wonderful world of parasitology. “The Foldscope is an ‘origami’ microscope that can be folded from one sheet of paper. I want to use this as a practical tool to stimulate discussion around both historical and current diagnosis of disease. I’m keen to see how well this can be used to engage with school children, allowing them to explore the ‘microcosmos’ in a fun and inventive way”.

Dr. Nasir Umar (IDEAS Country Coordinator): “The Gombe Girls for Maternal and Newborn Health project”
Working in collaboration with Rhys Williams, Nasir will connect with local communities of young women and girls in Nigeria. He will create a space for them to express their ideas and opinions on the theme of female empowerment, particularly as it relates to their reproductive lifecycle and health and their ability and desire to remain in education while still being able to become mothers. The girls will go in to their communities to capture data and experiences of pregnant women and women in childbirth as well as the health workers that care for them through interview and film. Following on from this the girls will invite family, including their fathers and brothers, as well as teachers and public officials to an interactive screening and display of their work.

Mary Oguike (Research Fellow): “Get sleeping under your mosquito nets”
Also working in Nigeria, Mary will transform primary school children in to ‘bed net ambassadors’ in their community. The children will learn about the proper use of insecticide-treated bed nets, often appropriated for other uses such as protecting crops or catching fish. Using cameras and art materials the students will be encouraged to explore creative ways to get around the barriers to using them in the home which will then be displayed in an exhibition for family and friends to attend. “I am excited about public engagement” said Mary “because it serves as a platform for me to chat to people more informally about science than my normal lab-based work allows: this in turn will increase the community’s participation in and contribution to research and implementation”. Mary was the sole recipient of small grants funding from the Department of Immunology & Infection. Of her success Colin Sutherland, Head of the Department said: “IID are delighted to hear that Mary is a successful recipient of the LSHTM Public Engagement Small Grant Scheme…Congratulations Dr Oguike!”.

Dr Sadia Saeed (Research Fellow): “Let’s talk about hygiene and defeat germs”
During the school summer break in Karachi, Pakistan Sadia held a one-day workshop that used arts and crafts to “raise awareness in children about the importance of good personal hygiene and its connection with the prevention of infectious disease. Through story-telling, playing with giant microbes and using glitter-paint the children saw how easily germs can transfer from our hands and between people.” Having now completed her engagement project Sadia reflected “it was a day filled with fun and laughter and the children were really open about their problems and their thoughts and ideas, which was amazing”. She will be conducting a follow-up activity with the same children in three months’ time to measure the impact of the engagement on the children’s hygiene practices over time.

Harvey Aspeling-Jones (Research Degree Student): “Sharing the hidden suffering in our communities”
Along with his co-applicant Georgina Miguel-Esponda from the Faculty of Epidemiology & Population Health, Harvey aims to tackle the stigma experienced by people who suffer from poor mental health in Mexico and the barriers to treatment and increased isolation they face.  Harvey and his collaborators from Kings College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and Companeros En Salud (CES) will work with volunteers from local mental health services to create a touring exhibition of artworks arising from workshops held to explore and articulate the experiences of living with a mental illness. Further workshops in Mexico will be held for visitors to the exhibition to highlight their attitudes to and experiences of mental health issues.

For information about the applications call for the 2017 Small Grants Scheme please contact rebecca.tremain@lshtm.ac.uk or publicengagement@lshtm.ac.uk.

Image: Grandmother using the ‘Getting to Know Cerebral Palsy’ training materials, Northern Ghana. Photo: Maria Zuurmond