UAlberta semi-finalists Syeda Adil, 2nd-year Bachelors of Science Honors in Physiology student, Raeha Ahmad 2nd-year Bachelors of Science Honors in Physiology student, and Ronja Kothe, 2nd-year Bachelors of Science Honors in Immunology and Infection student.
University of Alberta students from across campus have proven once again that they are keen on making a positive impact on the world.
In late January, the UAlberta hosted the World’s Challenge Challenge, a competition that invites teams of three to come up with an innovative idea that tackles a prominent global issue. The World’s Challenge Challenge is unlike most competitions held at the University. It follows a unique format, which requires students to break down an innovative solution to a global issue in a 5-minute time frame. Students can tackle an array of issues, however, the issue they choose must tie into the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. While the magnitude of the challenge and the time constraint would pose a daunting task for many, UAlberta students eagerly rose to the occasion.
This year, 23 teams stepped up to the plate for the chance to represent UAlberta at the finals at Western University. Although there was a spectrum of excellent ideas presented, only nine teams were able to proceed to the UAlberta finals, which took place during International Week.
The decision to choose the winning UAlberta team was not easy. Many groups presented well thought out ideas ranging from a water filtration process that would draw humidity from the air to create clean drinking water, to a methane conversion process that would reduce carbon emissions and create biodegradable plastic.
Ultimately, Ronja Kothe, Syeda Adil, and Raeha Ahmad took the win with their idea to divert unused and unexpired insulin from Canada towards refugee camps.
“Our project aims to help diabetic refugees by providing them with insulin [and other] diabetes resources, that they require to manage their condition, as these are not included in most emergency relief kits dispatched by non-profit organizations,” explains Kothe. “To do this, we are connecting with two non-profit organizations, Insulin for Life and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) - to facilitate the transport of insulin and related resources to diabetic Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon.”
This was UAlberta’s second time hosting the World’s Challenge Challenge after Western University opened up the competition to the international community. Semi-finals were held across the world, including in Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Switzerland, where students were competing for the chance to represent their respective university, while vying for the $30,000 grand prize, at the finals held in London, Ontario.
While the focus of the project is to prevent the wasting of medical supplies and ensure the effective distribution of insulin to diabetic refugees, the team also emphasizes that an essential component to this project is the educational piece.
“[We want] to spread awareness of societies such as Insulin for Life, and remind individuals that...there are better alternatives available for the insulin that they no longer require,” says Adil. “You can donate [insulin] to Insulin for Life, where it can be repurposed effectively, and in several cases save lives.”
As to why they chose this project, the team shares their personal connection to this challenge – each have family members who have been diagnosed with diabetes. They say that they could not fathom how difficult it would be for their loved ones to have managed their diabetes without insulin and other diabetic resources that are easily accessible at a nearby pharmacy. With this issue hitting home, the team started looking at ideas that would help individuals who are not fortunate enough to have insulin readily available to them.
That passion landed the team in the finals at Western University, where they were able to meet other like-minded individuals who were also working on addressing important global issues. While the UAlberta team did not place in the finals, they still stress that this experience was exceptionally impactful to them.
As for what is next for the team, they have decided to move forward with their goal of making insulin more accessible to diabetic refugees. This spring they founded the Aid for Diabetic Refugees Society (ADRS) to help them achieve this goal. Their focus this year will be on raising awareness for insulin donation as well as planning fundraisers to help offset the costs of transporting insulin to refugee camps. They strongly encourage anyone interested in the Aid for Diabetic Refugees Society to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In parting, Adil has this to say: “It is so important for everyone, especially students, to pay attention to the challenges around them. Everyone has their areas of expertise, and if we collaborate with each other, we definitely have the potential to alleviate the sufferings of other individuals around us.”