Hudson student participates in international program on COVID-19

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Laurel Gomersal

HUDSON – A Hudson High School junior joined more than 100 American and Iraqi student volunteers this summer for a seven-week virtual exchange program ​ to address public health issues related to COVID-19.

The program, sponsored by United Planet, included high school students from from Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, the Hopi and Navajo Tribal Nations, and Iraq. College students ​from Boston University and Salahaddin University also joined the exchange program to help guide the younger students. Their results were presented in September.

HHS junior Laurel Gomersal said she found out about the program through her Athletic Health Care and Fitness career program at Kent Roosevelt High School.

“One of my teachers, Mr. [Terry] Slattery, sent out the invitation to work with other students from around the world,” said Laurel, who added that she is considering going into a health-related field. “I thought it was a great experience to get to know about other people from different backgrounds who are facing the same problems throughout the pandemic.”

Laurel said to apply, she first filled out a form to express her interest, then wrote a paper “on why it would be in their best interest to participate in the program.”

Because of the pandemic, all work was done virtually through Zoom and different presentation websites, Laurel said.

“The most fascinating thing that I learned from the work I did in this program was learning about the cultural aspects of everyone’s lives that were affected by the pandemic,” Laurel said. “This program is a great way to connect with other people that you normally wouldn’t interact with.”

Amanda Soh, marketing & communications manager with United Planet, said that about 126 students from around the U.S. applied for this program, with 45 students selected. Forty-five high school students from Iraq also were selected.

For details on the program, visit https://www.unitedplanet.org/virtual-exchange/public-health-covid-student-online-program.

Soh said that Laurel and her team produced a video from the survey sent out to people around the U.S. and Iraq. 

The group projects addressed public health crises that have arisen from COVID-19 across a range of areas. For example, one group of students focused on increased domestic violence amidst the pandemic. They raised awareness by developing a ​bilingual website​ in English and Arabic as a resource for domestic abuse victims, survivors, and friends and family who want to better understand and support their loved ones. Another team of students focused on using art as therapy.

“I think it’s easy for all of us to feel despair or overwhelmed by the challenges we’re facing, but to see a multinational program to come together during this time really encourages me, and I know it’ll encourage other people as well,” said Kathryn Kiser, deputy principal officer at the U.S. Consulate Erbil in Iraq, who met virtually with some of the students as they presented their results.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com