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Sharing stories for positive change

Cite Magazine

From Australia to Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and London, Sian White has travelled the world helping improve education on basic health issues. Now working as a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she is responsible for behaviour change campaigns in Indonesia, Malawi and Nigeria. But for White, who studied a Bachelor of Arts at Curtin, public health wasn’t always the field she expected to end up working in.

“My majors in journalism and politics seem a million miles away from public health,” White openly admits. “My colleagues now tend to laugh if I tell them I trained as a journalist.”

But White says this background has actually helped her immensely in her career.

“I still spend the majority of my time interviewing people and sharing their stories,” she points out. “My background in journalism taught me the importance of being able to take a technical subject and explain it to the lay person, ideally in a way that would be both compelling and relevant to their lives. This idea is right at the heart of public health.”

“In terms of politics, everything is really just about politics! A lot of my work in this role and in my previous job involves close collaboration and partnership with national governments as well as policy analysis and helping to ensure that research is translated into policy and practice.”

Seizing opportunities

White’s foray into the public health sector stemmed from a volunteer assignment through the Australian Youth Ambassadors Development program, now the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

“In 2009 I was accepted to fulfil a post in Papua New Guinea as a communication assistant for World Vision, who were involved in scaling up the National Tuberculosis Program,” says White. “Over the course of this year I fell in love with the country and became increasingly passionate about public health and TB control.”

“Towards the end of my volunteer stint the project manager resigned, and perhaps ambitiously and naïvely, I applied for the role. For the following three years I was responsible for the scale up of TB advocacy, care and treatment throughout the whole country, managing over 100 staff dispersed across the 20 provinces. This role forced me to learn about myself and my management style, and exposed me to many of the real world challenges of public health.”

In 2014, White was honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2014 for her services to international relations through this work.

World TB Day in PNG. Sian White, centre with microphone, with members of parliament, cultural leaders, religious leaders, TB patients and representatives from around the country.

Early lessons

White has always had an altruistic nature, taking the opportunity to join Curtin Volunteers! while completing her study. The student-driven volunteering hub, established more than 20 years ago, allows Curtin students the opportunity to undertake volunteering opportunities across Western Australia.

After taking part in the volunteering opportunities herself, White had the opportunity to take on the role of Director of Remote and Indigenous Programs for CV!, which involved training and coordinating groups of students to travel to remote Indigenous communities and facilitate activities and long-term projects in community development, in conjunction with the local people.

“Since leaving Curtin and working in different areas of international development, I have begun to realise just how lucky I was to be part of an organisation like CV!,” reflects White.

“There are few organisations which are so accepting of change, where nothing seems impossible, where the working environment feels more like a social session with friends, and where operating ethically is more than just rhetoric but instead filtered down to the details of all we did. Looking back I realise how privileged I was to learn these lessons early on in my career.”

Graduate Snapshot

Name: Sian White

Studied: Bachelor of Arts (Media, Society and Culture)(Hons)

Related degree: Bachelor of Arts (Journalism)

Graduated: 2008