Oct. 29, 2021

Learning all around as Queen Elizabeth Scholars development project wraps up

Collaboration between scholars in Canada, Africa, South Asia and Latin America makes progress toward sustainable development goals
Queen Elizabeth Scholars at UCalgary.
Queen Elizabeth Scholars at UCalgary. Melanie Yar Khan, University of Calgary International

Since 2017, the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship – Advanced Scholars (QES-AS) project at UCalgary has supported 16 scholars, including doctoral, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers from UCalgary and partner institutions in Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

This project, one of four QES projects implemented by UCalgary International since 2015, has provided opportunities for building knowledge, research skills and capacity through academic and professional collaboration in maternal and child health, hydrogeology and STEM. The project ends Dec. 31, 2021 with all scholars’ participation and project activities wrapping up on October 31, 2021.

  • Photo above, from left: Shahnaz Ali, Aga Khan University (AKU), Pakistan; Shireen Shehzad Bhamani, AKU; Marina Hashwani, AKU; Addis Alaminie, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia; Sadia Ali, AKU; Pratyush Sharma, University for Peace, Costa Rica.  

“We are very proud of the QES-AS project and of these talented scholars,” says Dr. Cheryl Dueck, senior academic director (international). The individual research projects of the participants, along with the increased expertise gained through the co-operation, have made some genuine progress toward sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Mutual learning 'really pays off'

“The scholars have engaged in leadership, community and networking activities that have developed their intercultural capacity and global competencies. This kind of work involves a lot of co-ordination, across campus, in the community, and internationally, and generates mutual learning that really pays off.”  

Research supervisors at UCalgary were connected with specific institutional partners: Drs. Nicole Letourneau with Aga Khan University, Pakistan; Getachew Assefa with Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia; Barry Sanders with African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Ghana and Rwanda; Deborah Dewey with Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences, Tanzania; and Cathy Ryan with Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

One of the QES-AS scholars is Shireen Shehzad Bhamani, an assistant professor at Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM) in Karachi, Pakistan and a PhD scholar at Ghent University. Her scholarship research was supervised by Dr. Nicole Letourneau, professor in the Faculty of Nursing at UCalgary.

Shireen Shehzad Bhamani training midwives in Koohi Goth Karachi, Pakistan.

Shireen Shehzad Bhamani trains midwives in Koohi Goth Karachi, Pakistan.

Mehwish Dawood

Bhamani’s research project, “Resilience, Depression, and Anxiety among Pregnant Women in Pakistan: Development and Testing of Intervention,” aimed to develop, validate and evaluate the effectiveness of culturally and contextually based “SM-ART” intervention training modules [Safe Motherhood ART: Accessible Resilience Training] in two phases. Phase one involved development and validation of the SM-ART module, while testing the effectiveness of SM-ART intervention among pregnant women through randomized controlled trial was done in phase two.

Focus on mental health issues during pregnancy

“Prevalence of perinatal mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are common, yet an alarming sign among pregnant women of Pakistan," says Bhamani. “They are on the verge of a mental health crisis during pregnancy. Extensive work has been done to explore causes and risk factors of mental illnesses during perinatal period but effective ways towards its prevention have not been addressed.”

Bhamani adds, “I have a strong belief that resilience skills act as an antidote to anxiety and depression. In addition, early interventions for the effective management of mental illnesses not only benefit the mother but reduce the negative impact on the child as well.” SM-ART training module is the first intervention base module that has been developed in Pakistan for pregnant women, and preliminary results are promising.

Amazing QES experience

Bhamani says the benefits of the QES experience go beyond the research itself. “The grant has provided an opportunity to visit Canada two times and I was able to experience the chilling weather, summer and fall there. I had an amazing experience visiting Canada and UCalgary.

I was able to build strong international connections with knowledgeable and expert scholars, nurses, researchers, mentors and communities around the world who belong to diverse backgrounds and are open in terms of exchanging ideas at various international platforms.

Bhamani adds, “I believe this experience has increased my self-confidence and enhanced my research skills to conduct independent research in this field in the near future.

“Moreover, receiving close mentorship from Dr. Letourneau has polished my critical and analytical thinking towards research implementations and has strengthened my leadership and mentorship skills. Dr. Letourneau has been an outstanding and valuable mentor. Her constant guidance, in-depth knowledge about research and availability for endless assistance has played a major role while conducting research.”

Cultural learnings all around

Letourneau agrees that the experience was valuable for Bhamani and the others, but adds that “it has also been a wonderful gift for my research team and I. The cultural learnings were enormous — and reciprocal. It has been very special to host not one but six QES scholars over the last few years. We learned a lot from each other and I expect that this will be the beginning, not the end, of a lot of important international work to improve maternity care in the coming years.”

Hear more from international scholars from UCalgary’s Queen Elizabeth Scholarship program as they share their research activities at the Forging Global Development through Research: UCalgary’s Queen Elizabeth Scholars Forum, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (MST). Register here

The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship is managed through a unique partnership of Universities Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation, Community Foundations Canada and Canadian universities. The QES-AS is made possible with financial support from the International Development Research Centre and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.