The Young Scholars program (YSp) brings local health professionals, university and secondary school students together with international volunteers to address gaps in community health literacy.
The 8-week summer program meets three times a week and engages students in a classroom setting to learn science through medicine. Students learn the basic signs, symptoms, treatments and preventions for locally endemic diseases, in addition to the social, cultural, and opportunistic characteristics allowing specific illnesses to reach endemic proportions. The teaching materials used serve as a substrate to openly discuss the social determinants of health, capitalizing on the opportunity for students to deliver health knowledge and awareness into their homes.
The YSp also includes an optional Gender Clubs course, called Girls and Boys clubs, held a separate day. Our gender programming uses safe and open dialogs to discuss gender marginalization and empowerment, reproductive and maternal health, and gender specific social determinants of health. In addition to the classroom material, the YSp hosts guest speakers from local health organizations, and students are afforded the opportunity to participate in field trips which promote access to gender specific care.
During the last two weeks of the YSp, students receive training and are empowered to independently engineer high value, low cost community outreach initiatives (COI's). COI's serve as a platform for students to gain valuable leadership, project management, and community health worker experience through designing their own health-related outreach projects. Past COI's have focused on mental health, maternal & newborn health, and infectious disease awareness & prevention. These COI's provide students access to discussions dictating the course of health policy and delivery to marginalized West African communities. Students who complete the entire COI project are awarded Community Health Advocate certificates.
In 2011, YSp was expanded into Kenema to increase the opportunities for our volunteers to make impacts at the population level in a rural setting. During a guest lecture in Kenema, a WHO Polio Eradication Representative was asked a question by an inquisitive student that would change an entire vaccination campaign planned for that year. The student questioned the efficacy of administering liquid vaccination drops to fasting children during Ramadan. This question led to doors being opened for the students to be involved in the vaccination campaign after the implementation was shifted back to address the needs of the Muslim population. YSp students subsequently partnered with WHO Polio Eradication teams to create unique ways of educating previously labeled 'non-compliant' communities about polio. The new student led partnership provided a structure to expand our YSp to include a two-week training course on how to engineer high value, low cost COI's (community outreach initiatives).