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Community Voices: Update from our TOPOWA Youth Advisory Board Meeting

We had our second Youth Advisory Board Meeting last Friday.

Photo: Meet Anita, the Chair Woman for our TOPOWA Youth Advisory Board.

As part of our NIH funded TOPOWA project we have a Youth Advisory Board. On this board we have 15 young women who share their insight, give us feedback and also help us strategize any issues regarding study implementation or research dissemination. These women are our link to the communities as they represent our 3 study sites. Our meetings are very important for our project, but also great fun. These women are incredible, kind and generous with their time and insight and they have a great sense of humor. Also, on the days we meet, I feel a strong connection as we come together to serve women, improve mental health and build capacity. TOPOWA is a women empowerment project.

Photo: Our Board Members Posing for Fun.

At this point of our 5-year TOPOWA project we have completed our focus groups, our photovoice project and our community mapping of urban stressors. We published a paper on how women in the slums of Kampala view place and mental health which you can read here.

Next, we will launch our cohort study to see if vocational training impacts mental health trajectories among young women who live in 3 slums across Kampala (i.e. Banda, Bwaise, and Makindye). So for the past two weeks we have been busy training our research team to get everyone ready, finalizing our surveys, ordering supplies and cross checking everything. So, it was a perfect time to check in and get input from our Youth Advisory Board.

Photo: Our Advisory Board Members met with the Research Team at the INTEGHRAL Hub.

We meet with the board twice a year, and our most recent meeting was this past Friday (June 30th). This meeting was led by Anna Nakulabye who is the Deputy Director for the Uganda Youth Development Link/UYDEL and I (Dr. Monica Swahn, Principal Investigator for the TOPOWA project). And, it is always a pleasure to see Anna engage with the youth, she is just amazing. She interacts with the young people with such grace and ease, making them feel comfortable, translating between English and Luganda (a local language) seamlessly when needed, and also encouraging all to participate so that everyone will be heard.

Photo: Group Discussion with Anna on the Far Right.

We had 4 agenda items for this meeting:

  1. We wanted all the board members to visit our INTEGHRAL hub and meet the research team. We now have the entire research team in place and situated at the new INTEGHRAL hub so we wanted to introduce everyone. We also wanted them to tour our study space and the rooms which we will use for data collection.

  2. We wanted to also thank them for all the insight they shared with us at the last meeting in December and explain the impact of their ideas and recommendations. At that time we reviewed and finalized our list of urban stressors that were later mapped across the three study sites and slums so that we better understand the environmental context of mental health. We also received input from the Board on how to conduct our pilot studies which were completed a few months ago very successfully because of their ideas. .Our Board helped to shape and inform several study components.

  3. For this Board meeting, we wanted to brainstorm our cohort participant recruitment strategies and make the data collection experience as streamlined as possible. And, we got great ideas and suggestions for how to prepare our study participants for the data collection process.

  4. Our Board members will also serve as TOPOWA Ambassadors in their communities. So we discussed how we can communicate better about the project and how to prepare materials so that they feel empowered and confident to discuss the project. We will also design and order team shirts for the Board with the TOPOWA logo and make badges so that their affiliation and role can be clearly communicated.

Photo: Group Discussion with the Board Members.

It was a very productive meeting which ended with lunch, local Ugandan food.

After our meeting I felt a very strong connection and sense of women empowerment. I found this quote which resonated very strongly and which really fit the day.

“The world needs strong women who will lift and build others. Who will love and be loved. Women who live bravely, both tender and fierce; women of indomitable will.” — Amy Tenney

Photo: Our TOPOWA Team (or at least most of us).

Photo: Group Discussion.


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