Nursing, OT students bag awards at Harvard Innovation Challenge Southeast Asia

University of Santo Tomas College of Nursing student Qjiel Giuliano Mikhl Z. Mariano, and students from the College of Rehabilitation Sciences under the Occupational Therapy program, Jose Maria Miguel Burgos and his team members Sherry Lee, Reem Barakat, and Crystalia Evelyn Liaw bagged awards in the Harvard Undergraduate Global Education Movement (HGEM) Innovation Challenge Southeast Asia (HIC SEA III)

 Mariano and his team, composed of international students, won second place for the Well-Being and Equity solutions track. It was held virtually through Zoom from July 23 to 25, 2021.

HIC SEA is an annual program that guides delegates from different schools and countries through the different aspects of international development and helps them understand their role as citizens of the world. Throughout the three-day conference, teams engaged in track-specific discussions and seminar sessions featuring influential leaders from the academe, business, and government. The goal was to create an impactful and comprehensive “Solution Proposal” designed to tackle real-world problems and stimulate ideas for future collaborative projects. Students were then challenged in an open Questions and Answers session about their ideas before presenting a final round proposal at the end of the conference.

Mariano was assigned to team W-7 alongside Sofia Lim (De La Salle University, Manila), Ha Bui (Soka University of America, California), and Bui Ngoc Phuong Uyen (Chu Van An, Lạng Sơn City) and eventually placed second with their solution, Ladders to Literacy. Experts affiliated with Harvard, well-being advocates, and healthcare innovators from around the world judged the competition.

According to Mariano, Ladders to Literacy is already an existing project where children in communities identify a local issue and create a storybook that advocates for a solution to the problem. This allows the children to become published authors as an indicator of improved reading and writing skills while championing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

By adapting the features of Ladders to Literacy, their proposed solution applied the concepts of well-being learned in the conference. The delegates contextualized the storybook idea for Southeast Asian children to publish their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project helps children learn how to read and write while learning how to cope with the stressful situation brought about by the lockdowns and closure of schools.  The solution integrates tailor-fit cultural approaches for different contexts in Asian community settings.

According to Mariano, the insights he gained from the conference influenced several aspects of his project with the impoverished children of the Manila North Cemetery. He and his friends support the ongoing Ang Galing Program in Manila North Cemetery, spearheaded by All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World Philippines, an international movement dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty worldwide.

“We provide literacy training to 40 children living in the cemetery that need it most, and their life story was published into a storybook called Literate Lila. We started supporting Ang Galing since 2018, and with the help of the children, we were able to publish an e-book. The children consist of 40 individuals in the cemetery that need literacy training the most,” Mariano explained.

Sharing his reflections from the conference, Mariano said that, “Child well-being is often overlooked, so there is a great need to champion children’s rights to play, education, and the like, during the pandemic since their developmental milestones are at risk of not being fulfilled due to limited movement outside of the home. Looking back in my Pediatrics class in Nursing, there are numerous indicators that intersect with the well-being of children such as playtime, expression, and participation, which help children visualize how they are coping with the current situation. Thanks to the conference, there is a greater appreciation towards these lessons and how student nurses or healthcare advocates may innovate solutions to champion child well-being during the pandemic.”

In February 2021, Mariano was named “Education Hero” by Youth Service America (YSA) as part of its Everyday Young Hero (EYH) program.

In the same competition track of “Well-being and Equity”, second-year Occupational Therapy student Jose Maria Miguel Burgos and his team members Sherry Lee, Reem Barakat, and Crystalia Evelyn Liaw bagged third place for their proposal. Fellow second-year OT student Kim Rachel Yao was also a participant.

Burgos’s team presented “Snoezelen-in-a-box”, a concept that makes the Snoezelen Multisensory Room (SMR) more accessible .

A Snoezelen Room is a controlled multisensory environment (MSE) that can be used as therapy for people with developmental disabilities, dementia, or brain injury. It consists of placing the person in a soothing and stimulating environment that is specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, scents, and the like. “Snoezelen-in-a-box” condenses this into a portable and affordable alternative.

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