by Rebecca Biason
IHPME student Rosemary Yachouh has already had a very successful year. She was recently awarded the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership award for her involvement with fundraising campaigns that benefit Syrian and Iraqi displaced peoples. On the heels of this success the MSc Health Systems Research candidate is once again aiming her focus at bettering the lives of newcomers to Canada, by joining forces with a team of students from U of T’s Engineering department. Their goal is to create a new web and mobile app that will allow agencies assisting refugees, to provide more stream lined care throughout the stages of their settlement. Yachouh points out that “while this initiative is not solely focused on health care, it does attempt to mitigate some social determinants of health as experienced by refugees and newcomers in their settlement to Canada.”
Team Medial as they are known, came together in October having learned about the 2017 HULT Prize Competition and its benefits to winners and finalists. The HULT Prize Foundation according to their mission statement, “is a not-for- profit organization dedicated to launching the world’s next wave of social entrepreneurs.”
Bringing together teams from around the world, this global competition has a prize valued at $1 million U.S. dollars which is provided to the winner in the hopes that their concept will be made into a reality. With the 2017 theme focused on “Refugees – Reawakening Human Potential,” Yachouh and Zaid Atto, a UofT Biomedical Engineering student and an Iraqi refugee who had lived in Syria for 4 years prior to coming to Canada in 2009, felt this was a perfect opportunity for them to address some of the gaps they have witnessed during a refugee’s settlement, particularly in Toronto. “There are thousands of volunteers, as well as grass roots organizations assisting settlement agencies,” says Yachouh. “And while the extra help is wonderful, sometimes there is a disconnection between the informal and formal sources of support, and refugees fall through the gaps.”
“We recognized that even though the Canadian settlement and integration systems are considered among the best in the world, they are not well designed nor well-equipped to handle massive amounts of refugees, and the even greater number of volunteers that want to help.” says Atto. “We also recognized that many are trying to provide solutions to refugees directly, while the refugee care teams (settlement organizations and volunteers) still face numerous unmet needs.” The idea for a web app that would alleviate some of these concerns is how Yachouh and the rest of the team wanted to respond to the HULT Prize’s 2017 challenge. The app, known as Medial, would provide additional support to settlement workers by allowing them to streamline the care provided by a volunteer including having the volunteer participate in training modules that would better qualify them and match them with a newcomer in need by demographic or language.
While Yachouh and her team did not reach the finals of this year’s competition in London, which took place March 3-4, 2017, she is hopeful they will be able to expand their app without the $1 million prize. “WelcomeHomeTO amongst other organizations have offered their support, in assisting us with moving the app out of its conceptual stage,” says Yachouh. If they are successful, the goal is to have Medial become a live mobile and web app that in a year or so, could potentially provide more links to services for newcomers, such as finding housing, providing health care information, improving language skills and securing employment. All of which would be a welcome endeavour for Toronto, and Canada’s efforts, in providing the best care for newcomers and refugees.
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