Students help provide COVID-19 information to remote island residents

Mfangano Island, Aimee Carlson, and Neamatallah Elsayed

It was a most unusual summer project for two students at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—spanning two continents, 10 time zones, and an ocean—to deliver important public health information about the coronavirus pandemic to an isolated island population in Kenya. But the students, who are pursuing their Master of Development Practice (MDP) degrees, took on and succeeded in that challenge. 

Aimee Carlson and Neamatallah Elsayed (both MDP ‘21) collaborated with several partner organizations to create and implement a COVID-19 information campaign for the 30,000 or so residents on Mfangano Island, situated in the eastern part of Lake Victoria about 10 miles off the coast of Kenya. And they did it all over Zoom. 

The MDP program prepares students for careers in international development, equipping them with the skills needed to address issues such as poverty, social justice, and sustainable development. Students are required to complete a 10-week international field experience during the summer between the first and second year of the program. Because of the pandemic, students couldn’t travel to other countries, so they had to modify their projects into virtual formats. 

In Carlson and Elsayed’s case, that meant their project pivoted to the pandemic from its original objective, which was to use Mfangano Island’s radio station to help preserve the residents’ endangered Suba language and the oral history of their culture.  

Instead, they worked with a diverse group of partners to produce radio programs that provided the island community with accurate health information about COVID-19. 

The partners included a nonprofit community health organization called Organic Health Response  (OHR), Master of Public Health (MPH) students from the University of Minnesota and Maseno University in Kenya, and six radio presenters who work at the station. 

Carlson and Elsayed virtually trained the radio presenters on how to develop the radio content, find reliable resources, and create graphics for social media to engage the audience. They produced the content for the first three topics, and then guided the radio team to create the content for two additional topics. 

Despite numerous challenges, the collaborators were pleased with the results. Lily Muldoon, executive director of OHR, says she was impressed by Carlson and Elsayed’s ability to adapt quickly to the new direction of the project.   

“They worked really well with the Kenyan team, and thought of ways to push things forward working with the community,” Muldoon says. “They also demonstrated cultural sensitivity while talking about some sensitive issues, and they were thoughtful and understanding of the audience. It’s exciting that we were still able to have a successful project despite the COVID restrictions.”

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 10:26
Students help provide COVID-19 information to remote island residents
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities