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Student Spotlight: Rasha Mansour on how the Syrian crisis impacted her decision to study global health

MSc Global Health student Rasha Mansour

MSc Global Health student Rasha Mansour visiting a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) while working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC)

November 15, 2018

When MSc Global Health student and program ambassador Rasha Mansour was 23 years old, she joined the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) as a volunteer and visited a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The camp was just outside of her home town of Tartous, and the experience was life changing.

“As soon as I entered the camp, I felt the air saturated with despair and misery,” says Mansour. “There was no sanitary or health code being followed, illiteracy was widespread, and a water shortage forced young children to carry heavy jerry cans for a long distance,” Mansour explains. “It was then that I found my calling: to empower the unprivileged by providing them with knowledge and enabling them to improve the quality of their lives.” Just over two years later, she joined the global health program.

Having grown up in a well-educated family, Mansour says her parents, who both continue to work in the medical field, motivated her to work hard and to value education. She graduated high school with honours and completed a degree in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Tishreen in Syria.

In her third year, she developed an interest in preventive medicine. “I witnessed how adopting healthy habits could positively impact the well-being of individuals and lower the risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses,” Mansour explains. So, for her graduation project, she investigated breast cancer treatment and prevention. And she designed a program to be implemented in community pharmacies to raise awareness about the importance of regular screening tests for early cancer detection, which increases the chance of survival.

After graduating, Mansour decided she wanted to explore health care systems in a different context, so she sought a work shadowing experience in one of the top hospitals in Michigan, the Henry Ford Hospital. “Working in the intensive care unit, I learned about the vital role a well-established health system plays in saving the lives of patients,” she explains. Following that role, she returned to Syria and worked for nearly three years at a community pharmacy, educating patients about their medications, and motivating customers to adopt lifestyle changes to yield healthy outcomes.

During that time, Mansour also volunteered at SARC and then worked as a case manager. “Over the past few years, Syria has been experiencing the biggest refugee and displacement crisis since the Second World War,” says Mansour, and her work with SARC made a huge impact on her.

“I will never forget the faces that I saw during my visits to shelters. Everyone had a story to tell, from losing their loved ones to the unbearable situations they had to encounter. Day after day, I observed how displacement affects human behaviour and mental health, forcing vulnerable people to adopt hazardous strategies, such as child labour, dropping out of school, and child marriage.”

Wanting to raise awareness about these issues, Mansour participated in and led several campaigns to highlight the negative health and societal risks and impacts of displacement and drive change within the community. She is passionate about empowering unprivileged young children specifically and hopes to eventually find a career that will allow her to advocate for their rights to attend school and protect them from sexual and gender-based violence, especially in crisis affected areas.

“I believe that pursuing a Master of global health in McMaster University will serve as a stepping stone for my future goals,” says Mansour. “My hope is that I will gain the required skills to design programs that will promote the physical, mental and social well being of this vulnerable population.”