Planetary Health Campus Ambassador Program: Being resilient amidst a pandemic in advancing the health of the planet
Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, PHA Campus Ambassador
Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers
I am originally from the Philippines and am now living in France doing my PhD in Health and Safety at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. I also have a BSc in Nursing and an MSc in Public Health with a specialization in Environmental Health and Occupational Health and Biostatistics from the EHESP French School of Public Health. I worked as a nurse for almost four years before pursuing higher studies in France. It has been a privilege to be one of the Planetary Health Campus Ambassadors (PHCA) during this unprecedented time. It was not an ideal situation for any of us, but it created new opportunities and opened new windows that ultimately strengthened our convictions and passion for Planetary Health. This year perhaps is the most important time for the Planetary Health community. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing planetary health problems but have also brought them into light.
These past months amid the pandemic have been full of mixed emotions. I have received good and bad news in just a short span of time. It was a great opportunity for spiritual growth and I am thankful that it aligned with my appointment as an ambassador. I deeply feel that Planetary Health not only involves the physical aspect of understanding humanity’s connection to the planet through the health impacts we experience from anthropocentric changes, but it also includes the spiritual aspect where we feel this inner connection with all forms of life that is beyond our understanding.
Creation of the PlaHNet of Young Professionals
During my journey as an ambassador, I co-founded the Planetary Health Network (PlaHNet) of Young Professionals (formerly known as PlaHNet France). I felt that there was a need to go beyond higher studies or health to reach other professionals from different fields and disciplines. The young professionals of today are the future, regardless of their field. Increasing their awareness about Planetary Health will help pave the way towards a sustainable future. If we could touch one young professional at a time from diverse fields, I think that it would make a difference, however small it may be.
The structure of my university helped me in conceptualizing this. It is composed of different fields — engineering, business, fashion, health and safety, and mostly continuing education. It is quite a challenge to start a Planetary Health Club in a university where the majority of courses and faculties are not focused on health. So, I decided to reach out to my friends in Paris that have the same passion. Our original plan was to start the network and then introduce Planetary Health to our respective institutions as it is a great source of support and motivation to have a group with the same goal in mind. However, COVID-19 happened, and we had to adapt and change our plans.
We created an online organization that removed geographical boundaries. I was quite doubtful and hesitant at first because I was not sure that it is what the PHCA program is about. I felt relieved and inspired when I received full support from my PHCA mentor, Konstantinos Makris of Cyprus International Institute for Environmental and Public Health, and the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) in every step of the way. We started from four members at that first meeting in Paris in February 2020 and now we have 22 registered members/volunteers representing diverse professions and countries. Our projects are mainly divided into education, advocacy, and creativity.
In our webinar series, we invite experts from all walks of life to share their knowledge about Planetary Health and the environment.
We had our first inaugural webinar entitled “Planetary Health: Debunking myths and misconceptions and Challenges Humanity Face in the Anthropocene era through different lenses, especially in the face of COVD-19” on April 2, 2020 with Dr. Renzo Guinto and Dr. Andres Garchitorena. There were around 70 attendees from around the globe.
In this video, our member Alejandro Molina-Garcia shares his thoughts on Planetary Health and how as a medical doctor and public health professional he can help in saving our planet.
A) COVID-19 reflections
We began this project to provide PlaHNet members a medium to express themselves during the lockdown as mental health support. It is a means to help one another during this difficult time. We also shared these articles with Dr. Jennifer Cole and Ms. Melvine Anyango Otieno, who are coordinating the COVID-19 Resource Pack for Planetary Health Regional Hubs.
Is COVID-19 a call for humanity to evolve?
Reducing the mental burden of COVID-19: Is it possible?
A) Photo Advocacy Contest
We asked the public to share their advocacies through photos that depict environmental changes during the lockdown, advocacies in their communities and photos that illustrate hidden environmental issues that they want to shed a light upon.
Through this photo contest, we want to increase the public’s engagement and their awareness of environmental issues through their photos. It is also to give them a platform to showcase their photography skills and love for our planet.
Collaborations made during the lockdown
One of the highlights of this program is also the connection that I have forged with my fellow ambassadors. I personally want to commend all ambassadors for being so resilient in this difficult time. Through our dedication and passion in advancing Planetary Health, several collaborations have been made. Together, we have written a commentary and we are currently conceptualizing a storybook for children. We are so excited for these projects to come to fruition! We have proactively used the time of lockdown as a means to come together as one family for Planetary Health. Our common love for the planet has connected us — making all of this possible. We are stronger together!
I have also met so many inspiring people in the field of Planetary Health along the way and have learned so much about this field. I will forever be grateful for the PHCA program.
Challenges we faced as PlaHNet
I think the main challenge that we faced was sparking public interest. At first, we were hardly getting any likes or reactions on our social media accounts when sharing posts about Planetary Health and the environment in general. Going beyond our usual ways and being more creative, such as hosting the Photo Advocacy Contest, has helped us connect with people’s interests. The second challenge is the lack of funds for our projects. Hosting virtual activities has helped us immensely, and we hope to raise funds for future non-virtual events. I am so thankful to all PlaHNet members/volunteers for their commitment and dedication to the organization.
What is next?
At the moment, we are mostly focusing on creating and establishing our niche in the Planetary Health community through our activities and initiatives. We are planning a PlaHNet Webinar Series 2 with the broad theme of “How Planetary Health is relevant to each profession?” in which we will invite speakers from different fields. The aim of this webinar is to raise young professionals’ awareness on some ways they can be planet-responsible in their professions.
We are also in the process of creating an Advisory Board for PlaHNet that will advise and mentor us as an organization. In the future, with guidance from our advisors and the PHA, we aim to hopefully: (1) register PlaHNet as a Planetary Health Alliance member, and (2) start a call for the creation of the Planetary Health Southern Europe Regional Hub.
Advice to the Next Gen leaders
My advice to Next Gen leaders is to be as open as possible to the situations and opportunities that present to you. One of the things that this pandemic has taught me is that we cannot control everything that happens in our lives. We must accept the situation, whatever it may be, so that we are able to act proactively and are able to do what is required of us. It is also important that we take care of ourselves — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We are more likely to be effective, inspiring, and impactful leaders if we ourselves are peaceful and harmonious inside. I believe that our outer surroundings and situations reflect our inner state. Change starts within us.