Student Spotlight: Debbie, International Public Health Student

As our regular ‘Student Spotlights’ show, we often welcome student placements into our support team to learn about what we do and how we operate. However, this month Savera UK welcomed Liverpool John Moores University student Debbie into our communications and outreach team.

Debbie aimed to bring “a can-do attitude, an extra hand and some ideas” to the charity during her time with us, and she certainly achieved this.

During her placement, Debbie supported us in raising awareness of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices through research, blog writing, content creation and even attending in-person outreach events.

In our interview, we find out more about Debbie, what she expected from her placement and what she learned from her time at Savera UK.

Thank you Debbie for all your support, we loved having you with us!

Debbie with Savera UK team members Chelsea, Lauren and Jenny
Debbie with Savera UK team members Chelsea, Lauren and Jenny

First of all, Debbie, tell us a bit about yourself.

I am from Malaysia, and  I am currently studying a MSc International Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University. I chose this course because I was beginning to see firsthand the opportunities and challenges in public health across different cultures and countries. That drove me to learn and be equipped on how to make a change. So when the door opened for me to study abroad, the stars aligned!

Away from my studies, I’m drawn to art in its various forms, from digital illustrations to batik prints. I also have a small postcard collection featuring watercolour paintings and hand-drawn art from my talented, artsy friends!

Why did you choose Savera UK for placement and what did you come hoping to learn?

Savera UK stood out to me as a charity that was passionately sincere, skillful, creative and brave in championing a cause that is often considered a taboo. Importantly, ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) crosses the intersections of gender equality, human rights, violence and criminal justice, an interplay which relates closely with my dissertation. This placement gave me the opportunity to see and experience the nuts and bolts of the fight towards and the possibility of change.

In addition to growing my knowledge of HBA, I was looking forward to develop my confidence to speak up about HBA in person and on social media. I was also keen to learn how to create spaces for survivors to be heard in creative yet safe ways (like Samia’s Story in the Savera UK 2020/21 Impact Report).

I was also interested  to hear from the support team about their experiences in supporting those at risk of HBA and to better understand how communications integrate with fundraising and partnership development in a charity setting.

What did you get involved with during your placement?

I was involved in learning from and assisting Nikki and Lauren from the communications team. This included researching organisations, professionals and potential partners involved with HBA here in the UK, creating social media posts and writing a blog post about how Savera UK’s one-to-one support team addresses the mental health of clients. My placement also coincided with the Mental Health Awareness Week which was brilliant, as I had the opportunity to join Lauren to host a stall at the LCR Combined Authority Mental Health and Work Summit. Additionally, I also got to sit in on weekly communications meetings and the monthly staff meeting which I found really insightful!

What surprised you about the role?

I must say that I was blown away by how much goes on just within the comms team, evident from the weekly communications meetings. For my specific role, Chelsea provided me with an overview of what to expect prior to the placement and both Lauren and Nikki also briefed me well at the start of my placement. These were really helpful in giving me an understanding of what Savera UK does and the role of the comms team.

What did you enjoy most about the role and did the placement meet your expectations?

I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the day-to-day activities of the comms team, learning on the job and interacting with the rest of the team. My placement with Savera UK exceeded my expectations! Not only did I learn more about HBA, I also got to gain insights into what the one-to-one support team does and experienced firsthand the integral role of communications within the organisation. I also found the on-going training, support and feedback I received from both Lauren and Nikki throughout my placement really helpful and valuable.

What was your most important learning from your placement?

It’s been an absolute privilege to be immersed and gain insights into the macro and micro view of how a charity runs. I observed how when everyone is clear of and committed to the why, they are driven with the what and the how. I also appreciated the opportunity to listen in and experience the intersecting role communication plays, from creating awareness, data and analytics to partnership development and funding applications. That has been my most important learning.

What was the most memorable thing that you did during your placement?

The most memorable would be the conversation with Bea from the one-to-one support team. That helped me in two ways, firstly, to understand the support team’s role better and then learning how to communicate that to a wider audience to create awareness, be it through a blog post or in-person at the Mental Health and Work Summit.

Based on your experience working with Savera UK, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing organisations supporting survivors and those at risk of harmful practices?

I think that scaling up and funding this important work and creating more awareness of these hidden practices are perhaps the biggest challenges. Supporting survivors and those at risk of harmful practices remains a crucial need, as does engaging with the ecosystem of people and partners, from the public to schools and the media.

What are your future plans? 

I’m working towards completing my course in International Public Health at LJMU by the end of August this year. I hope to work with a non-profit organisation involved in improving the lives of women and girls at risk, including refugee and migrant women, when I return to Malaysia.

How will you use your practical experience with Savera UK going forward?

Having learnt about how gender inequality, violation of human rights and violence intersect in my course, working at Savera UK allowed me to experience how theory translates into practice and how change is possible. I am now more confident of speaking up about HBA and harmful cultural practices. Additionally, I am looking forward to apply what I have learnt from the comms team, including planning, forward thinking, collaboration as well as communicating sensitive stories creatively and safely, in my future role. Thank you, Savera UK for such a rich and meaningful experience!