New Colombo Plan - Connect to Australia’s future - study in the region.

Virtual Public Health Study Tour

Pooja Ramesh is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The University of Western Australia. Pooja undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in December 2020.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake this virtual program?

I decided to undertake this virtual program because it represented the unique opportunity to learn and immerse myself in a cross-cultural experience that represents the crux of what I am passionate about – optimising medical care and health advocacy by embracing multiculturalism and understanding the key health issues and needs of culturally diverse populations. I loved the idea of collaborating closely with participants from across Australia and Indonesia, and exchanging cultural insight, language, and experiences, for a rich and holistic learning experience.


Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Why do you think the NCP is an important initiative?

I was very fortunate to receive an NCP Mobility Grant to undertake this program, and I believe it to be a wonderful initiative that eliminates barriers to Australian youth engagement – whether this be in an academic, professional, or sociocultural landscape – in the Indo-Pacific region. Such an initiative results in mutual benefits for Australia and countries within the region, promoting cross-cultural collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and an understanding of social responsibility and active citizenship in an ever globalising and diversifying world. It encourages us to be open-minded, to be curious, and to embrace new perspectives, languages, and ways of living.


Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual program?

It is difficult to pinpoint one particular aspect of the program, because the entire experience was immersive and rewarding!


Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on the Virtual PHST?

Personally, I found my biggest challenge to be in efficiently grasping the vast bank of knowledge we gained. Prior to the tour’s commencement, I understood that the tour would be intensive, but I did not perceive the extent to which this would be the case. Throughout the week, I found myself constantly immersed in the tour environment, wanting to do justice to the learning opportunity. At times I found it difficult to establish a healthy workload balance, despite my efforts to adhere to a planned study schedule. I found that implementing strategies such as post-Zoom power naps (to re-energise) and group study (to emulate the sense of camaraderie on a face-to-face tour, and to reinforce accountability in study habits) supported my learning.


Q: What public health issues in Indonesia have you become more interested in/aware of as a result of this virtual tour?

Throughout the course of the tour, I learned how public health issues in Indonesia were nuanced and complex, with the decentralised nature of the health system and unique geographical, socioeconomic, linguistic and cultural determinants of health shaping the diversity in health service delivery and population-level health outcomes across the nation. I also discovered how the combination of these factors have led to the manifestation of a triple burden of disease and health challenges that are distinct from Australia. I have become fascinated by the myriad of public health challenges Indonesia faces – ranging from communicable diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, to chronic diseases and mental health issues – and especially in how these are influenced by the structure of the healthcare system. I was previously unaware, for example, of the significant role played by puskesmas (government-based initiative that provides comprehensive health coverage by qualified health professionals) and posyandu (an integrated health post staffed almost exclusively by female cadres, with a focus on child and maternal health) activities. These primary care services are essential in the ‘frontline’ – in delivering community-specific, culturally sensitive healthcare, with further roles in health advocacy and promotion.


Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?

My favourite virtual field trip was the Kali Code Community virtual tour, led kindly and energetically by Mbak Khansa. It was so immersive, I almost felt like we were actually there with her. I found it fascinating to discover the rich history of the community, and the way in which Romo Mangun, Catholic religious leader and architect, came to the village in 1983 and worked hand in hand with the government, university students, and the community to develop the village in 3 main dimensions (TRIBINA). Firstly, he prioritised education of the people living in this community, to give them better life prospects, and to promote creativity and innovation. From an environmental standpoint, he placed emphasis on sustainability, and supported individuals in designing and building housing that worked in symbiosis with the natural environment – from sturdy material such as bamboo, and constructed further away from the riverbank to mitigate the consequences of floods and other natural disasters. He also saw the value of social interaction and worked to foster a sense of community among those living along Kali Code. I additionally admire how he advocated for diversity – appreciating and embracing all religions and peoples; instead of building a church, he constructed a building (paseban multipurpose hall) where residents can gather, socialise and host events. I was moved by how community empowerment, with the required collaboration of key stakeholders (e.g. government, academia, community, as well as the media and private sector – i.e. the Pentahelix model), can really transform lives. I hope that similar programs can be implemented across Indonesia, and in other communities with similar geographical and socioeconomic features.


Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program?

Despite the entirely ‘virtual’ nature of the tour, it was a highly interactive and culturally immersive experience. We were encouraged to contribute and work collaboratively to support peer-peer learning, and this fostered a safe environment where we were also able to exchange cultural insights and experiences – especially in our Bahasa Indonesia classes! Additionally, the culinary and dance classes we were fortunate enough to participate in provided the ultimate ‘taste’ of Indonesia (and left us wishing we were there in person to explore the street food!) I also found that I engaged socially with my peers and our ACICIS team much more than I anticipated, whether this be in our class sessions, group work discussions, or during our special lunchtime Zoom!


Q: How do you think the Virtual Public Health Study Tour will influence your future career or studies?

This tour has equipped me with a vast bank of transferable knowledge and skills, and a keen understanding of my social responsibility as a global citizen in the Indo-Pacific region, that will prove instrumental in my career trajectory as an aspiring doctor and medical researcher. From learning about geographically distinct health conditions, to challenges in arising from structural aspects of different health systems in the Indo-Pacific region, the tour has only further fuelled my passion for this field. I hope to use this experience as a platform to continue advocating for and promoting culturally sensitive healthcare, that is informed by an understanding of healthcare systems and social determinants of health.


Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?



Q: Describe your experience of the Virtual PHST in three words:

Comprehensive. Insightful. Perspective-changing.