Health sciences students evaluate social development in Kenya

Nawiri Mama Project | Bright Futures | Social Enterprise Hub | Torrens Uni

Torrens University Master of Public Health students are partnering with social enterprise Bright Futures to equip mothers with disabled children in Nairobi slums with basic physio skills to better help the development of their children.

From Swahili origins, Nawiri Mama translates to Flourishing Mother, and the focus of this project was twofold. Alongside the health benefits for their children, the project also provides the mothers with vocational training and support to improve their capacity to gain work, or start small businesses, to earn an income.

Social inclusion for mothers with disabled children

The Nawiri Mama Project has been running since 2020 with partner group Bright Futures and Kenyan based NGO Dorcas Creation, with support from the Australian High Commission in Kenya.

In the first two years the Nawiri Mama Project has enhanced the life and capacity of over 200 mothers of children, and now our health sciences students have been engaged to discover the true impact of this project.

Dr Mohammad Kadir, Lecturer in Public Health, School of Health Sciences, is leading this pilot project with Brighter Futures for our students. He was tasked with understanding the project’s scope, and to better understand the participants involved in Kenya.

Previously, our capstone students were performing only literature review and data collection.

“Now they're really excited that they're working on a program trying to change people's lives in a Kenyan slum,” said Mohammad.

A learning experience for both students and academics

The two capstone subjects are the first social enterprise content weaved into curriculum for our health sciences cohort, and it’s a learning experience for both our students and academics to ensure they deliver what’s required, both for the client, and for our students.

“This is the first time doing a social enterprise subject, connecting to industry in this way,” explains Lisa Casanelia, Program Director.

“This is exploratory and an exciting kind of journey for all of us. We are coming up with a framework for evaluating any social development program like Nawiri Mama Program with Bright Futures,” said Mohammad.

“It’s been challenging, but of so much value to our students,” adds Lisa.

Learning to be flexible and delivering back to the client is obviously important, said Lisa. “Making sure we get that right so that their participation in the project has also assisted our students to learn and gain valuable experience in an applied context is equally important.”

There was a large cohort of capstone students who expressed the interest to work in the applied program, who have just completed the first capstone component getting an understanding of the project’s scope and producing academic literature reviews on the population they have investigated.

According to Mohammad, students have been very enthusiastic to work in this program, with several students having a really emotional response.

“They are genuinely connecting with their industry partner and they want to get the real experience and feedback from working on a program like this. It’s definitely something new for them, but they're happy for this applied learning,” said Mohammad.

The biggest learning curve is yet to come

Now, at the halfway point, the next step is to work more closely with stakeholders Dorcas Creation who operate this project in Nairobi slums to collect and interpret more data and evaluate, then produce reports for Bright Futures.

“That's when all that hard work will happen, so we'll have to work quite diligently with the students to get the right outcomes and also collaborate more with the client to make sure we're meeting their expectations and needs,” said Lisa.

That's definitely a great opportunity for our students to learn from the practical program happening in the field,” said Mohammad.

There are three groups of students coming up with three proposed evaluation frameworks for the comprehensive evaluation, designing, then implementing, and the outcome evaluation of the program.

“From my working experience it is very demanding, but this knowledge is highly transferable in any program in any area, not only in public health, in education, in business, social development or community development,” said Mohammad.

Finally, the success of the program is its efficacy and revealing how the program is really achieving the aim of empowering women on the children with disability.

“So that's the main aim and focus of the program to result in broad changes that embalm the mothers of disabled children,” said Mohammad.

“As you can imagine, we're talking about a very sort of grass roots type of program in a slum area so accessing information can be really challenging and I guess the challenge for students is that it's not going to be nicely ordered in a spreadsheet, like you would expect normal data to be collated,” said Lisa.

“They're going to have to be able to be flexible and improvise, and view outside of frameworks to be able to collect the valuable information about the organic nature of the program to gauge how effective the program was and how it has transformed these mother’s lives.”

“That's the bottom line is really being able to showcase that,” adds Lisa.

Alumni provides cultural context for students

Health Sciences are planning to enlist the help of an alumni who comes from Kenya to provide some information and cultural context to students to better understand the environment the participants live in as well, and explain what it is like to live in a slum and understand the conditions these women are living in.

“Our students need to understand why there's little support and why the communities view disability in the way they do,” Lisa explains.

“With those sorts of contextualised questions, obviously it’s really important for students to be able to evaluate the program effectively so they need the right lens on when they're viewing the data.”

“Our librarian has also provided valuable context for the students to find literature very quickly and effectively around this topic, and provide the context as well, the Kenyan context, African context, because most of our students are from India, Nepal, and South America.”

Mohammad and Lisa hope share outcomes, and student experiences at the end of this year. 

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