This year has been a hellava roller coaster for Victoria’s international students. Imagine being new to a foreign country during a global pandemic, unable to go home, and in lockdown without established local connections to help you navigate the new normal. That was Tharindi Ruwanpura’s experience before joining Study Melbourne’s Leadership Labs 4 Impact program. By the end of the 12-week program, she had formed life-long friendships, and her team is now changing the landscape of sexual health education for Victoria’s international students. HEX is thrilled to help them do it, thanks to more than $10,000 worth of scholarships provided by Study Melbourne for the winning two teams.
More than 1000 international students participated in the inaugural Study Melbourne Leadership Labs program. The sequel program — Study Melbourne Leadership Labs 4 Impact — placed the students in teams to create real projects with real social impact and learn key employability skills along the way.
But how do you get hundreds of students to form teams with people they’ve never met, during lockdown, when you can’t even fit them all in one Zoom conference? Lottery? Skills? Personality types? Here’s where the magic happens…
The teams were formed on the basis of the 17 United Nations Sustainability Development Goals. Each participant self-allocated to explore the goal closest to their heart, then formed a team with others aligned with their core values. The result is super-tight teams packed with passion (even though they’ve only just met in real life).
And boy, are they on a mission!
Six team members from the two top teams will got through an intensive HEX's Discovery program to expand their global industry networks and launch their projects into the marketplace.
“They’ve got the skills and the blueprint. Now it’s time to build the house.”
The winning team, YSHY (Your Sexual Health Yard), is bridging the gap between international students and sexual health services. They’ve built a prototype and are even paving the way for a collaboration with Family Planning Victoria.
“In situations where someone is in a sexual health crisis, we will be able to help them through our website and guide them to the relevant health services.”
— Sudipta Chowdhury, Team YSHY
“We do not talk of sexual health… [it makes international students] very vulnerable, because we do not know how to approach a hospital if something is happening.”
— Pratibha Singh, Team YSHY
The potential size of the problem is huge…
“In this group we have people from five different countries…. We are all from Asia… This continent has a very strict set of rules. [About] 60% of the world’s population belongs to Asia. If the structure of the culture and religion is so strict, we can actually assume talking about sex is a taboo for more than 60% of the world’s population.”
— Adnan Ansar, Team YSHY
And they’re not stopping there. YSHY team member Sudipta Chowdhury is particularly driven to dig deeper and tackle a taboo within a taboo: LGBTIQ sexual health within the international student community.
Second placed team, Mindspeak, is continuing to develop its mental health platform for international students. Originally envisioned as an outlet to create poetry for trauma relief, Mindspeak eventually grew to be a one-stop shop for mental health services.
These guys are very smart cookies. Between the two teams, there are two medical doctors, a Project Manager and ex-World Health Organisation intern, a student nurse, and seven Masters students — in Business Administration, International Business, Business Information Systems, IT, Occupational Therapy and Management. Suffice to say, we can’t wait to have them in the HEX family.
Here’s what they had to say…
“Avoid asking advice from peers sailing in the same boat as you are. I always ask somebody who has done [the thing you want to do].”
“…And it’s ok to be very uncomfortable because that’s actually how you get things done.” — Pratibha Singh, Team YSHY
“It looks impossible until you’ve done it. If you have a dream, go and pursue it with likeminded people. Then you will get the support you need.” — Decem Kwok, Team YSHY
“It’s always important to breathe.” — Adnan Ansar, Team YSHY
“An important thing I learned from this project is to surround yourself with good influences — people who will listen to your ideas, and even if they think it’s crazy, they’ll be able to be optimistic about it and guide you towards the resources and mentoring that you need.” — Mandy Tran, Team YSHY
“Stay positive and confident. Do not lose hope. Try to learn. And don’t ever back down.” — Sauhard Kumar, Team Mindspeak
“Three tips: 1. Stay strong. 2. Rely on your support system. 3. Take in every opportunity you can find.” — Aparna Nair, Team Mindspeak
“My advice for international students is believe in yourself. You are as good as any other student. Try to get as much exposure in Australia as possible.” — David Dong, Team Mindspeak
“[During COVID] Give free food for international students around Melbourne… I’ve heard of international students in particular who’ve had difficulty keeping their jobs, paying for their food and accommodation, so [organisations that distribute food packs] are very useful for international students in this situation.” — Mandy Kowara, Team Mindspeak
“You have to persevere through it. There’ll be a rainbow at the end of the day.” — Plearn Passachon, Team Mindspeak
If you (or someone you know) would like to help either team’s mission, we’d be happy to put you in touch.
“We’re interested in collaborating with organisations and stake holders… helping them, running workshops and providing a platform for them.”
— Pratibha Singh, Team YSHY
They’re already talking to Family Planning Victoria. Perhaps the Department of Health and Human Services will be next. 😉
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