During reading week, HSPP gave me the wonderful opportunity to tag along with them on one of their high school visits. For this visit, we went to University of Toronto Schools, located a short walk from Bloor and Spadina. It was a brisk and chilly morning, the air was cold, but things were warm from the welcoming atmosphere of the school. As soon as I walked in, nostalgia hit me. The school bell had rung and everyone rushed out of their classrooms to their lockers, ready to go home after a long day of classes. The hallways were busy, colourful, and crowded with jubilant faces. Comically, there were drawings of amino acids on the walls and a large DNA helix winding around the staircase.
One important question kept popping up in my head as I was strolling through the halls - where was the awkwardness of high school as I remembered it from my time? Why were the younger generations getting less dorky by the years? They look older, they dress better, they have better phones and they likely have more flexible curfews than I did when I was their age. Would they even have anything to look back on and get embarrassed by? OK, I’m getting sidetracked – let’s get back to the visit.
The speakers were Arsalan Anees, a 3rd year co-chair of HSPP and Muskaan Gurnani, a 1st year UofT Med student, both very friendly and charming individuals. Instead of a formal presentation, the talk felt very laid-back. It encouraged discussion, engagement and response from the audience. Students had a chance to reflect upon why it is important for a society to keep its members healthy and why the condition of other countries mattered. Aspects of social, political and economic factors affecting global health were examined. Contrary to common belief, the class found out that some of the most important determinants of health are not wealth, culture/behaviour, or technology, but income equality and female education. What I enjoyed the most was how the speakers kept things interesting by presenting various case studies which the students would debate and attempt to identify underlying causes for different outcomes. To no surprise, they were able to provide really educated guesses as to why certain countries were more biased towards worse health conditions than others. At the end of the presentation, the speakers and I shared a few laughs about how these high schoolers were much smarter (and cooler) than us.
Additionally, I had the chance to ask Arsalan a few questions about his experience with HSPP.
Q: How were the school visits organized?
A: They were organized thanks to the help of Ike Okafor and La Toya Dennie at the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs (OHPSA) UofT. They were kind enough to help us reach out to a good number of schools across Toronto while at the same time incorporating diversity to our school selection to allow as many students from different backgrounds an exposure to field of Global Health.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of organizing high school visits?
Most definitely the actual scheduling of dates. To our surprise, we had an overwhelming support from teachers, school administrators, and students who were very excited to offer us their valuable class times to present and a lot depended on our presenter’s busy schedules. It is for this reason that we are looking forward to expanding our team for future years to allow us to cover more ground.
Q: If you had more time and could make your presentations longer, what else would you add?
A: We would love to delve deeper into topics of compassionate consumerism and volunteerism in global health.
Q: What is your favourite memory from all of your school visit?
A: One visit I would like to recall is our presentation at Vaughan Road Academy. We presented to the Grade 12, IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class and from the moment we started introducing the topics, quite literally the entire class was eager to participate. The students started to voice their opinion on some of the ethical and philosophical reasons for the importance of global health and even debate with fellow classmates on some underlying reasons for the data presented. We had excellent and very creative thinkers in that class and are looking forward to having them there at the conference!
The schools visited this year were the following: Madonna Catholic, Vaughan Road Academy, James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic High School, University of Toronto Schools, Thistletown CI and Emery CI. They have estimated to have reach out to over 200 students!
It’s a phenomenal grassroots initiative by the HSPP, who are also hosting the Take Action Conference for high school students across the GTA. With the goal of empowering high school students to become informed and active global citizens, HSPP will challenge Toronto’s youth to express their passion for global health challenges in the format of powerful speeches and videos. Everyone is welcome to attend and see Toronto’s global health potential and talent on March 12, 9 am – 4 pm, register here.