By Lilo Noort, CHAIM Centre Communications Intern
A One Health approach to the health issues that face the planet today requires collaborations across multiple sectors and disciplines locally, nationally, and globally. One Health works at the intersection of human and animal health, with the natural and built environments contributing to and transforming this relationship.
The 2022 One Health Challenge concluded in March, when student groups presented their novel solutions to the challenge, they were given to create an intervention that promotes the public health benefits of enjoying the use of greenspaces in urban areas, while balancing the potential negative impacts on ecological health and biodiversity. A group of expert judges from different sectors deliberated over each solution. And following considerable discussion, they selected the creators of “Green Days,” for the top prize in the competition. This interdisciplinary team was made up of undergraduate students Malik Sylla (Computer Science), Veronica Yung (Interactive Multimedia and Design), Erika Uzoegwu (Health Sciences), and Frank Li (Engineering Physics) who were mentored by graduate student Sebastian Steven.
“We knew we wanted to focus on green spaces and accessibility, and that idea evolved into our final template surrounding children and school children in urban centers. The entire aim of the project is to bridge the gap between green spaces and low-income children, because we know that these kids often experience a lack of green space access,” said Malik Sylla.
“The program is all about giving these children access to green spaces, and professionals who can teach them more about it,” Frank Li continues.
The team discussed how they hoped that their innovation will help to connect young people to nature at an early age. They stressed the importance that green spaces can have on one's mental wellbeing, and how access to these spaces can improve the lives of children. “It was not our first idea at all, and we actually had to work on a few ideas before we had that aha moment.”
“One of the most important things was looking at the gaps in the currently existing programs,” said Veronica Yung. She explains how while in school, she was only every shown a handful of career paths to consider. “Showing kids that there are options outside of what they show you in high school, was important to us,” she explains. “I feel like if kids exposed to opportunities to get outside the classroom and look at the world differently, they can make better choices later in life.”
Green Days was a labor of love. The team explained how their combined talents, in a variety of fields, offered a unique advantage for completing the challenge successfully. “Health is more than just the choice you make,” said Erika Uzoegwu. She expressed how having an interdisciplinary approach to research is crucial for a project like this. Erika went on to describe how health is affected by “the choices that are like provided to you and that you have access to.”
Uzoegwu outlines how one of the team’s biggest goals was to use their collective expertise to help uplift others. Their collective efforts to create a health innovation, has a goal of changing the lives of children from underfunded communities.
“I heard a Mohamed Ali quote once that said, ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,’ which I think is really powerful in the One Health Context,” Sylla said. He explained how the team’s project developed over discussions about growing up in urban centers in North America. “It was important for us to look around and see the things we experienced as kids, the challenges we faced and how they can be improved,” he concluded.
Moving forward the team recently presented “Green Days” at Carleton’s annual Life Sciences Day 5.0 on May 10, 2022. In line with the 2022 OHC, this year’s conference topic was surrounding healthy communities and the team had the chance to show case their intervention to many academic, government, and industry attendees. A long-term goal of the Green Days project is to expand across the country and help connect inner-city children to nature and environmental education.
“Our generation is the future, and we have the ability to change the world,” Sylla said “we want to use our platform and the privilege we have to make a change for these kids, so they can continue to change the world for the better.”