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Public health students help international clients create educational plans

May 2, 2024

Clinical associate professor Heather Eastman-Mueller's class, Strategies for Effective Peer Education and Advocacy, has a virtual mee... Clinical associate professor Heather Eastman-Mueller's class, Strategies for Effective Peer Education and Advocacy, has a virtual meeting with one of their clients from Kenya as part of their participation in the Client-based International Project Program. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Students in a class about peer education and advocacy have made an impact far beyond the Indiana University Bloomington campus this semester by working with partners in Kenya to create educational plans about sexual and reproductive health. The partnership and hands-on learning experience are thanks to a pilot program that brings projects for international clients into the classroom.

The CLIP Program — Client-based International Projects — through IU Global has involved four faculty members, five courses, 173 students and clients in Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala and Germany. The students in Heather Eastman-Mueller’s Strategies for Effective Peer Education and Advocacy class have worked with the Kwale County, Kenya-based Hijabi Mentorship Program and with the global Addis Clinic, which has a mobile clinic in Kenya and works closely with Hijabi to achieve the program’s goals.

“I feel very fortunate to have this experience,” said sophomore epidemiology major Olivia Balbo. “It’s a great feeling to know your work is being sent overseas and making a difference and making things better in a community. That’s really important to me.”

New learning experience

Eastman-Mueller, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, said her class typically creates lesson plans and performs outreach and advocacy on health topics for IU Bloomington students, including training to become a peer health and wellness educator through the Student Health Center. However, she was looking for an international opportunity to broaden her students’ experiences.

“I presented it as you can make a difference that is going to far exceed the IU Bloomington campus,” Eastman-Mueller said. “We have the opportunity to engage in dialogues and provide resources and information to partners that are wanting us to work with them.”

The seven students — all Groups Scholars — said they were happy to help peers in another country for the first time.

“As an epidemiologist, an important role is working with communities,” Balbo said. “This project gives experience working with communities you are unfamiliar with and creating lesson plans that fit into their cultural narratives and with the resources they have.”

Forging a partnership

The Hijabi Mentorship Program, founded in 2018 by Nima N’zani Kassim, is a health care and gender-based advocacy group that aims to educate and empower women and girls. It began working with the Addis Clinic in 2021 when Caroline Wanjiru was brought in as Addis’ mobile clinic operator in Kenya to provide technical support for Hijabi and to provide medical screenings, psychosocial support and community engagements.

Kassim has had prior experiences with IU. She was part of the third Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2019 that brought young African leaders to Indiana University for an intensive leadership institute. In 2022, IU students in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies’ global consultants group helped the Hijabi Mentorship Program develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy, which maps out potential donors and applying for grants independently. Another collaboration involved IU’s assistance in reviewing Hijabi’s newly drafted policies.

“These prior collaborations with Indiana University were pivotal in shaping our organizational capacity and effectiveness,” Kassim said. “They equipped us with essential tools and knowledge that have played a significant role in our growth and development.”

Willo Sheikh, left, and Joi Parker listen to a remote presentation as Nima N'zani Kassim connects virtually from Kenya. Willo Sheikh, left, and Joi Parker listen to a remote presentation as Nima N'zani Kassim connects virtually from Kenya. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana UniversityKassim said the Hijabi program sought assistance from the CLIP Program to support its pilot Sexual Health Outreach Project, which advocates for sexual and reproductive health as a fundamental human right. They needed help creating lesson plans for a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health curriculum, and for a train-the-trainer model for health care providers, peer counselors and community activists.

The students met with Kassim virtually at the beginning of the semester to understand her organization’s needs. The lesson plans needed to be evidence-based and age appropriate, and target three groups: teen girls, health care providers and community activists.

The students learned a bit about the Kenyan culture from Kassim, and they researched the country’s geography, health care system, economy, religion, educational and social systems, politics, and history to shape their lesson plans.

The class used ALCOVE, the Active Learning Classroom of Valuable Experiences in Woodburn Hall, to conduct research, collaborate, share findings, give presentations, share feedback and connect with the international partners.

Each student created a lesson plan for each target group, so 21 were created in all. However, the students learned that a lack of access to some types of technology made their original plans impractical.

Instead, Balbo created lesson plans geared for pen and paper, such as worksheets or notecards, or that could be done by role playing or true-or-false questions. One plan she created was about non-sexual consent for adolescents, such as not touching a friend’s hair without asking. Willo Sheikh, a junior and community health major, created a bingo game about sexually transmitted infections.

Mutually beneficial

Eastman-Mueller said she met virtually with the Kenyan partners each month, and the students would email them questions and drafts of lesson plans and receive feedback by email.

“As much as they were relying on us for feedback, I have learned quite a bit from them as well,” Wanjiru said. “It was especially amazing to see the evolution of the students from the first drafts to the final drafts. These have helped us a lot as we are currently running projects around sexual health in the community.”

Kassim said that working with Eastman-Mueller and the students was a positive and fruitful experience, and that the students were dedicated, proactive, attentive and adaptive to the organization’s needs and objectives. The collaborative work will enable the Hijabi Mentorship Program to tailor its advocacy efforts to target groups more effectively and ensure the efforts’ sustainability.

Nathan Perez makes a presentation about his experience with the Client-based International Project Program during the Global Learning Sho... Nathan Perez makes a presentation about his experience with the Client-based International Project Program during the Global Learning Showcase on April 26 at the Ferguson International Center at IU Bloomington. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University“This collaboration will help strengthen our capacity to advocate for sexual and reproductive health as a human right, promote positive attitudes towards sexuality and contraception, and foster equity and responsibility in relationships within our communities,” Kassim said. “By leveraging IU’s expertise and resources, we can enhance the impact and effectiveness of our advocacy initiatives, ultimately contributing to improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women, girls and young people in Kwale County.”

The students gave poster presentations about their CLIP Program experiences during the Global Learning Showcase on April 26 at the Ferguson International Center to explain what they learned, and answer attendees’ questions.

Sheikh said she’s always been interested in health care, particularly public health and diverse community care. She said the class and project gave her added perspective on the type of job she’d like after earning her degree.

“I think it helped to work with the CLIP Program and specifically Hijabi because of beneficial skills we gained from the class that we can use in the future,” she said. “I thought it was beneficial to work beyond the U.S. and with people of a different country. This helped me step outside the U.S. and look at the world look through a different lens.”

Nathan Perez, a sophomore psychology major, said he appreciated the professional experience of helping other people and public speaking.

“It was my first time doing a research poster and giving a public presentation,” Perez said. “It’s been a really good experience. I learned some flaws with my lesson plans as I got feedback. Working with another country was a good experience. It helped me step outside my own perceptions.”

Expanding opportunities

Elisheva Cohen, a global learning specialist for the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, leads the CLIP Program. She has overseen similar projects for the Hamilton Lugar School for five semesters, but when she joined international affairs, there was interest in creating CLIP.

Olivia Balbo stands by her research poster about the project with the Hijabi Mentorship Program during the Global Learning Showcase. Olivia Balbo stands by her research poster about the project with the Hijabi Mentorship Program during the Global Learning Showcase. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana UniversityCohen said the CLIP Program ties in well with the IU 2030 strategic plan by providing students with experiential learning opportunities and helping partners beyond Indiana. Some faculty members were already doing client-based projects domestically, she said, so the CLIP Program paired interested faculty with international partners. IU Global’s contacts can help faculty find a client partner if they don’t already have one, Cohen said.

Faculty must apply to the CLIP Program; those who are accepted receive a $3,000 grant to support their project. This semester, projects have addressed health, corporate organizational culture, financial guidance for residents of low-income communities and perceptions of the Holocaust on social media, Cohen said.

“The faculty all are enjoying the experience and report their students are enjoying the experience,” Cohen said. “One thing I enjoy about the project is the students getting to do something that is real. They can see what a project in their discipline looks like and apply what they are learning in their courses in a concrete way.”

Cohen said the pilot has been a success and the program will continue in the fall semester.

Author

IU Newsroom

Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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