How to set up a GHG in a rural town

How do you set up a GHG in a Rural Town? ASPIRE’s experience in Armidale

Originally published in Issue 17 of Vector magazine. For full issue, click here.

This year marks an incredible five years since the start of ASPIRE  (Armidale Students Promoting International Rights and Equality), the University of New England’s (UNE) global health group (GHG).  I’m sure that you, like almost everyone who hears about UNE for the first time, is surprised by its existence. In actual fact, Armidale is home to a small but passionate group of medical students of approximately 60 to 70 students per cohort.

With the growing attention of regional, rural and remote medicine amongst medical schools and policy makers, we have seen a dramatic growth in the number of rural and remote medical schools and opportunities for rural placements. Medical students are spending more time in rural and remote contexts then ever before and for this reason, we felt it was important to discuss some of the ways that ASPIRE has continued to develop the presence of global health our medical school and community.

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Lessons from a rural GHG

A rural context for ASPIRE has meant that we are a smaller and ‘fun sized’ GHG, with a committee of 12 students and approximately 75 members, it means ASPIRE has had to make the most of its limited funding and resources. However, this hasn’t stopped us from organising numerous successful global health projects and initiatives. Below are some of the steps that have been taken through ASPIRE’s development across the years:

Step 1: Having a group of dedicated and enthusiastic medical students has been pivotal in helping us develop our GHG in a rural context. Also as a smaller cohort learning how to recruit motivated students has been essential in ASPIRE’s development.

Step 2: Becoming involved with AMSA Global Health and other GHGs has allowed us to expand the achievements of ASPIRE. This has included our involvement in the AMSA projects and initiatives including AFRAM, Code Green and Red Party.

Having close associations with AMSA Global Health and GHGs has also given our members the opportunity to get involved in global health beyond what we can access in Armidale. As our university lacks a School of Public Health, and there is little global health content in our medical curriculum, initiatives such as the AMSA Global Academy and Global Health Conference (GHC) are essential in providing avenues for our members to keep abreast of global health issues.

Step 3: Recognising the opportunities for global health involvement and partnerships in our own backyard has helped ASPIRE to grow beyond our small medical cohort.  We have had the pleasure of working with numerous local organisations including Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees, Sustainable Living Armidale, and our local Zonta International Branch.  This work has been incredibly rewarding and many of these groups have become generous sponsors and supporters of our projects across the years.

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In the last five years ASPIRE has grown rapidly. We’ve gone from the development of our constitution to organising UNE’s largest on campus club night. We’ve also pioneered and continued to develop a Maternal Skills and Birthing Kit weekend on the Mother’s Day Weekend, which was runner up in the project pool last year at GHC and this year.  We have since increased the number of birthing kits made from 600, in our first year, to 1000.  Our size also hasn’t stopped us from winning three Live Below the Line AMSA Global Health challenges – a feat only made possible through the enthusiasm and strong participation of our entire cohort.  Furthermore, we saw our largest delegation attend GHC Sydney in 2014. Naturally, we are all incredibly excited to attend this year’s GHC in Perth.

ASPIRE has also expanded our executive committee to include Code Green, Red Party and Crossing Borders representatives.  Two of our students participated in the AFRAM Advocates program and we are excited to see how our continued involvement in the AFRAM and Crossing Borders projects can increase throughout the rest of the year.

Our motivated students have also gone on to hold some important positions outside ASPIRE. These include:

  •      Publications and Promotions on the AMSA Global Health Management Team in 2014
  •      Deputy Convenor for the GHC 2014 Executive
  •      Logistics Officer for the GHC 2016 Executive

Despite our small size and limited resources we’ve still managed to organise a large range of events including saving the tops of aluminium cans for the creation of prosthetic limbs; signing petitions to get more Fair Trade chocolate in supermarkets; hosted many bake sales; and continuing our participation in Live Below the Line. Our fundraising events have also been extremely successful. In our first year we raised $3,500 for the Burnet Institute of Medical Research.  In 2014 we were able to raise $2879 to the Ashwood Memorial Hospital in Daund, India and $4522 to the Barbra May Foundation.

ASPIRE’s success has been the result of the incredibly hard work of our past and present members and executive teams. We’ve fought against unique rural challenges to provide UNE students with the wonderful opportunity to become involved and learn more about global health.  We hope that ASPIRE continues to grow, inspire and educate more people into the future.

We’d like to thank AMSA, AMSA Global Health and all the GHGs that have supported us over the last five years and look forward to continuing working with you for many more years to come.

We hope our insights into ASPIRE’s experience as a GHG has shown that no matter how small in number in you are or where you are geographically you can still be active and valued participants in global health.

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