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Students and staff prepare to take skills and knowledge to Africa to help refugees

Date 16.05.2019

Students look set to broaden their horizons after their lecturers met with leading health and social care organisations working in Africa.

Representatives from the West Nile Consortium – of which the University is a key partner – have been visiting Waterside as members of the Faculty of Health and Society build their efforts to send students and staff to this region of the continent as ‘professional envoys’.

Guests have included Health Education England – represented by Professor Ged Byrne NHS Director for Global Engagement, Robert Kwesiga – Secretary General of Uganda Red Cross Society, Moses Mulimira from the Uganda-UK Health Alliance and Johnnie Garside, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Everton Football Club, with the meetings led by Senior Lecturer in Social Work Dr Sukhwinder Singh.

They have met with Faculty colleagues and discussed opportunities to identify and develop, in collaboration with their African peers, health and social care provision for refugees in Uganda and the hosting communities.

Plans have been agreed to use the wealth of expertise among FHS staff and students for the benefit of both parties. For instance, Mental Health Nursing will co-deliver mental health interventions for refugees experiencing trauma and Paediatric Nursing will help deliver physical and emotional support mechanisms for children living the refugee settlements as well as in refugee hosting communities.

Co-learning opportunities for students have been discussed, with students set to visit the West Nile region for international work placements, developing their skills working with people from different cultures and in other health and social care settings.

Dr Singh commented: “We have had very productive meetings that have highlighted the potential for partnership work to co-develop positive health and social care outcomes for people across East Africa and further afield.

“The first step is getting ‘boots on the ground’ in the West Nile region so that professionals here can work in the spirit of equal collaboration with our African partners, identifying and exploring joined up solutions to health and social care issues in the area which are grounded in indigenous knowledge.

“We won’t be imposing our ways of doing things but will work with them in reciprocal, long-lasting knowledge and skill-sharing exercises.”

Robert Kwisegia added: “We are happy to partner with the University and other members of the UK West Nile consortium to complement each other’s efforts as we offer meaningful humanitarian support to the people affected by the war and those in the hosting communities.

“Uganda Red Cross provides a number of services that include access to clean and safe water, Health Promotion through hygiene and sanitation management, psychosocial support services, protection for children and mothers, restoration of broken family links, among others.

“Partnering with the consortium members will enable us go a long way in fulfilling our mandate as well as building the capacity of our people to be able to deliver as expected.”

The Consortium has achieved a number of notable successes already:

  • Balancing midwifery provision more equally between refugee and civilian areas
  • Developing safeguarding work at the point of entry into refugee settlements
  • Establishing a football league with Everton FC for young people in refugee camps who have been displaced by the on-going South Sudan civil war.

The aim of the league is that, by playing football, children and young people emotionally affected during the war will open-up and talk about their experiences, helping them on the road to recovery*.

Conflict has been raging in South Sudan since war broke out there in 2013, leading to many South Sudanese fleeing across the border to their Ugandan neighbours.

Uganda has one of the most welcoming refugee policies in the world (giving land parcels to displaced peoples, for instance) but, with an estimated 1.2million refugees existing health and social care services are feeling the strain.

The University of Northampton is the only education partner in the consortium, chosen specifically because of its Changemaker ethos, including being the only AshokaU campus in England.

Changemaker is a University of Northampton-wide initiative which focuses on staff and students finding solutions to environmental or social problems to improve people’s lives, either at home or abroad.

AshokaU is the global association of the world’s leading universities, supports social entrepreneurs working together to create solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. The University of Northampton was the first in the UK to be awarded Ashoka U status in 2013.

* Previous research has reported that sport can be used as a tool to help in conflict resolution in developing nations. By letting children from communities who do not traditionally mix play alongside each other, it is hoped that social and cultural barriers can be broken down. Peace Building Through Sport? An Introduction to Sport for Development and Peace, Cardenas, A. (2013)