Three students of Health Sciences from the University of Tampere had an unforgettable trip to Mongolia in May. Elina Seppälä, Chantelle Slayter and Malla Linna, who are Masters’ degree students specialising in International Health, took part in the evaluation of the Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) project. The framework of the project is designed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The CBHFA project was implemented by the Mongolian Red Cross Societies (MRCS) in three districts of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the years 2013-2015. The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Finnish Red Cross (FRC) funded the project. The aim of the evaluation was to assess the relevance, impact, effectiveness and sustainability of the project.
The project was carried out by trained volunteers who visited the households in the districts to help with health problems and to give information about preventing the problems. Volunteers also organized different kinds of activities and campaigns related to health and environment.
Seppälä, Slayter and Linna got to participate in the evaluation of the project when Anneli Milén, a professor of Global Health and Development from the University of Tampere, started as the main evaluator of the project and was permitted to take students with her. Mikko Perkiö, a lecturer of Global Health and Development, was also a part of the team.
“This kind of a cooperation between the University of Tampere and FRC was the first of its kind,” Seppälä says. “Usually the evaluation is done by only one expert from FRC, so allowing a team of students to participate was unique, as well.”
Eye-opening field work
Although the three students study International Health, this kind of international field work is rare in their studies. Working in the field was eye-opening. According to Slayter, the practical experience was the most important thing of the whole process.
“You cannot learn all this just by sitting in a classroom listening to professors or even by doing case studies,” Slayter says. “The world is so complex and dynamic; it has so many different factors that you have to experience the situations in real life.”
Each of the students had their own responsibilities during the evaluation. The project involved evaluating theCommercial First Aid process, which was the main responsibility of Malla Linna.
“My job was to interview the staff of the MRCS and the people organizing the first aid trainings,” Linna says.
Surprisingly poor living conditions
Seppälä and Slayter were interviewing the volunteers and the households. Their aim was to get a clear picture of the health problems in the areas.
“The key components of the project were first aid, disaster preparedness, prevention of all kinds of injuries, communicable diseases, nutrition, caring for children, hygiene, water and sanitation,” Seppälä says.
“The project also aimed to increase the knowledge of environmental pollution. In the areas in Mongolia the conditions are very different from what we are used to in Finland. For example, there may not be any specific places for dumping your waste so people just throw their garbage anywhere,” Seppälä says.
“Considering that the World Bank has ranked Mongolia as an upper middle income country, it was surprising to notice how many people still live in very basic and dirty conditions. I was responsible for interviewing the households, and at times it was heart-breaking to see people living in such poor conditions,” Seppälä says.
“Some of them were still quite happy, although nearly all of them complained about suffering from poverty and unemployment, which are big problems in those areas,” Seppälä says.
Critical thinking is the key
Participating in the evaluation was an eye-opening experience to all three students.
“Everyone knows these kinds of situations exist in the world, but to see it with your own eyes and to talk with people gives you new perspectives,” Slayter says.
“The most important thing that the project and my earlier studies have taught me is critical thinking,” Seppälä says. “When you volunteer in a project and you get to work with active, motivated people, you can easily see only the bright sides of the situation and miss the chances to do things in a more efficient way.”
“Critical thinking is thus the most important thing I’ve learned and I will keep practicing it also in the future,” Seppälä says.
Text and translation: Ida Vahtera