Lessons in thinking globally, acting locally

With a passion for health in a global context, master of science graduate Rhianna Charchuk is improving circumstances for vulnerable newcomers to Edmonton.

Rachel Harper - 22 November 2017

Rhianna Charchuk has always been passionate about health in the global context. So when she was looking at graduate programs, the master of science (MSc) program in global health seemed like a natural fit.

"I believe that the basic principles of public health are essential for truly making an impact in the health of our population," explains Charchuk. "And when I read the description for the global health program, I knew I would be able to gain the knowledge and skills that would support what I want to do on a global scale."

Throughout Charchuk's time as a student at the School, she learned that people don't necessarily have to leave their home in Canada to make a difference in the global community.

During her program, she became interested in refugee resettlement, so began volunteering with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and Catholic Social Services. Through these organizations, she had the opportunity to meet refugees, hear their stories and a gain a deeper understanding about the service providers that support them.

"Refugees are in a vulnerable situation, and are chronically under-served and disadvantaged," says Charchuk. "As with other vulnerable groups, they have a hard time advocating for themselves, or even knowing what their rights are."

Charchuk wanted to help. Her research thesis focused on the experience of privately sponsored Syrian refugees in accessing health-care services-medical and dental care-in Edmonton. She spent four months interviewing Syrian families and found that they faced problems like lack of translation services, confusion about coverage or poor communication. But, throughout her research, she was constantly thinking about knowledge translation: how her research could be shared and how it could reach those who could effect change.

"It was important to me that my research didn't just sit on the shelf," she says.

Charchuk worked with her community partners to plan a knowledge translation event in April, 2017. She invited participants, service providers from different newcomer serving agencies, decision makers at Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health, academics, researchers and media. The event was successful and provided an opportunity for decision makers to hear directly from refugees about their experiences.

Now, Charchuk continues to work with an Edmonton-based group to advocate for change in the services for refugees and hopes to continue on a career path that allows her to support newcomers.

"I think it's important for those of us who work with refugees to recognize their challenges, advocate for them and help provide them a voice."