by Alvona Loh Zi Hui
From haze leading to asthmatic attacks in children, to stale water leading to mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, the health of the environment is intrinsically linked to human health. Joining the Alumni TIES seminar on Public Health and Climate Change in May 2022 deepened my understanding on the alarming effects of global warming, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO), can result in negative health outcomes including zoonoses, vector-borne diseases, heat stroke, and mental health issues. In Singapore for example, dengue fever, major depressive disorder, and heat stroke are of great concern and pose as threats to human health and also health economics. These conditions are at least partially attributable to global warming.
An intergenerational impetus exists to safeguard the human health and the planet in which we live. However, this topic may not be commonly emphasized in our local school curricula. Therefore, with two other co-founders: public health researcher Thakshayeni Skanthakumar and environmentalist Cheryl Lee, we created a three-day program “Planetary Health for All” for adolescents and young adults, as well as a roving exhibition that runs from July to September 2023 at various public libraries in Singapore which are centered on the theme of planetary health. All three of us are keen believers in education especially among youth, and felt the need to educate and allow them to be agents of change. In order to mold perspectives and allow them to gain exposure to planetary health early, understand its implications in the Singapore context, develop solutions to it through design thinking and innovation, and gain early interest in collaborative efforts to promote planetary health, “Planetary Health for All” was conceived.
Over 20 selected youth participants joined our program, held on January 7, 8, and 28, 2023. The first part of the program featured an interactive “Walkshop” at Marina Barrage and the Sustainable Singapore Gallery. Youth were introduced to concepts of climate change, its impact on Singapore and efforts to promote sustainability in Singapore by agencies e.g., the Public Utilities Board (PUB) that is Singapore’s National Water Agency. They then formed small teams to enter a competition, where each team brainstormed, proposed and pitched their unique and innovative ideas to combat climate change.
The second day of the program focused on a summit consisting of panel discussions from speakers in the fields of global health and environmental protection. Mr. David Chua, Chief Executive Officer of National Youth Council opened our session as Guest-of-Honor, and Mr. Ian Yip from U.S. Embassy Singapore graced our event as our trusted local coordinator of numerous initiatives under Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). For the global health panel, we had Dr. Jeremy Lim, Associate Professor at Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Dr. Shawn Vasoo, an infectious diseases specialist at National Centre of Infectious Diseases, Professor Roger Ho, a psychiatrist from National University Hospital and Associate Professor Jason Yap, Vice Dean at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. For the environmental protection panel, we had Mr. Yasser Amin, Chief Officer of a nonprofit litter collection app, Ms. Dorcas Tang, an environmentalist and artist, and Ms. Rachel Cheang, an advocate of climate justice.
These speakers spoke about topics including pollution, waste management, “One Health,” emerging diseases, and sustainability efforts, which captivated our audience. Discussions and question-and-answer sessions with our panelists helped participants connect the dots between the spheres of climate change and public health. To better capture the content of the summit, we engaged a team of talented artists from a live doodling company, Idea Ink, who visually recorded our summit in the form of sketch towers.
On the third day, our panelist and artist, Ms. Dorcas Tang from the environmental protection panel facilitated the much-anticipated Art Jamming session, in which our youth participants could unleash their artistic talents and channel their ideas and inspirations from the Planetary Health for All summit into art.
In the final segment of Planetary Health for All, selected artwork by youth participants and sketch towers depicting ideas at the Summit were specially curated to form a Roving Exhibition meant to educate the public about human health. This roving exhibition was displayed at Keat Hong Community Center in February 2023, Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre from March 2023 to April 2023, and Nanyang Polytechnic in end April 2023. It will continue to be displayed from July 19 to September 30, 2023, at five participating public libraries in Singapore under the National Library Board (NLB), namely Bedok Public Library, Ang Mo Kio Public Library, Jurong Regional Library, Bishan Public Library and Choa Chu Kang Public Library.
This event would not have been possible without our collaboration with Republic Polytechnic through lecturer Mr. Aaron Angus Chen, who assisted us in the planning and execution of the program, as well as recruitment of youth volunteers. Our program received heartwarming responses from our youth participants. One youth participant remarked that it helped broaden her perspective on how humans and nature impact one another, while another felt that the program taught him to view things on a bigger scale.
You may continue to check on our ongoing updates at this website: https://planetaryhealthsg.com/. If you would like to connect with us, we can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alvona Loh Zi Hui is an alumna of the 2020 YSEALI Professional Fellows Program and the 2021 YSEALI Women’s Leadership Academy. She participated in the May 2022 Alumni TIES seminar on Public Health and Climate Crisis in the Indo-Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.
Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)