Navigating complex global health challenges while providing life-saving water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions
Work-integrated learning (WIL) is a core component of McMaster’s graduate Global Health program, which requires students to complete a 10-week practicum to gain hands-on experience in the field of global health.
During the Summer Term each year, graduate students complete their experiential learning in local and global organizations to put into practice the theory, concepts, and methods taught in the program. Currently completing a remote WIL practicum with Solidarity Engineering (Solidarity), graduate student, Dena Atallah, is learning cross-cutting skills for a career in a globalized world.
Solidarity works to improve the lives of displaced populations (including asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants, and stateless persons) in cartel-controlled Mexican border cities. As the sole engineering organization providing aid in asylum-seeking camps along the border, a large majority of their work has focused on addressing critical gaps in water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Addressing SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), specifically in places of conflict or displacement, their work focuses on inclusive, innovative, and sustainable solutions and recognizes that humanitarian crises are products of complex global relations, historic power imbalances, and environmental injustices.
Solidarity is a diverse and multidisciplinary organization with team members from several disciplines including engineering, nursing, education, public health, and logistics. Interested in the interdisciplinary nature of Solidarity and its commitment to advocacy for asylum seekers along the US-Mexico border, Dena is inspired by the founders call to action.
“Having the opportunity to meet with Erin Hughes, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Chloe Rastatter, Director of Development and Founder, and Miranda Mello, Project Engineer, and Katrina Leslie, Project Manager, I am gaining a deeper understanding of how they navigate the complex political situation at the border while providing life-saving water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions.” Dena Atallah (MSc Global Health candidate)
Working on a Menstrual Health Management Project, Dena is supporting the MHM team to develop an intervention that responds to a lack of menstrual health hygiene resources and information in the camps. Having the opportunity to gain real-world practical skills, Dena has supported the development of pre- and post-intervention surveys and worked with Solidarity’s partner organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, Days for Girls, and Choose Love. In addition, Dena has been involved in the development of a publication (in press) that discusses the MHM project and assisted teams within Solidarity, such as the Grant Team and Social Media Team.
Working with team members and partners from Canada, US, and Mexico, Dena has continuous opportunity to engage in international collaboration and professional development. She remarks that, “with the opportunity to attend meetings with partner organizations, I have been able to make meaningful connections and take part in the decision making process”.
One such organization that Dena has made a connection with is a local organization, Iva’s Granddaughters. In partnership, they successfully received a grant to support the MHM project. Dena remarks that, “the experience of approaching a grant opportunity with confidence, and then being able to receive the grant to support Solidarity is incredibly fulfilling.” Dena further explains:
Solidarity has given me a new perspective on the humanitarian space and fostered a passion for humanitarian aid. Their organization is extremely transparent, which has helped me to understand the reality of this type of work, including its unique challenges. As well, the incredible sense of purpose you feel. It has also solidified for me the importance of advocacy and commitment to helping a target population in the way they need, which is an invaluable lesson that I will take with me into my career in global health.
Through opportunities with organizations such as Solidarity, graduate students gain real-world experience with activities targeted to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and learn diverse and innovative perspectives on how to progress equitably and sustainably, both locally and globally.
Global Health News