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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

22 March 2024

Related Study Areas

Volunteering in Madagascar

From volunteering in Madagascar to studying a Master of Public Health – Master of Global Development in North Queensland, JCU International Student Risa Tsuchiya shares how she experienced building connections across continents.

After studying Liberal Arts in Japan, Risa Tsuchiya moved to Cairns to study Global Development. However, even before setting foot on Australian soil, she had already gathered extensive hands-on experience in the field.

“Since I was in high school in Japan, I wanted to study abroad for my Master’s, but I didn’t have the money at the time,” Risa says. In order to finance her postgraduate studies, she worked for three years in a manufacturing company.

Risa also volunteered in Cambodia, interned at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which provides foreign aid to developing countries, and worked as a community development manager in Madagascar.

“In Madagascar, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. I would talk with local people, communicate what they need, and create something from what they have,” she says. “For instance, I used food oil, livestock dung and soil, and I created soap, coal stoves and coal. These were all resources from the local community.”

Risa Tsuchiya volunteering in Madagascar (supplied).

Questions waiting to be answered

“I always wondered how I could contribute to the wellbeing of people in developing countries, and in Madagascar, I came across a lot of questions,” Risa says. “For instance, I saw a new national highway built next to slums where people lived in extreme poverty, not far from a large rubbish tip near the national highway.”

Risa says she began to have doubts and a sense of discomfort about the way development assistance intervened in Madagascar.

“I experienced the side effects of development interventions that affected local communities' cultural lifestyles firsthand and began to reflect on what is currently considered the ideal form of development intervention.”

This is why Risa decided that she wanted to find the answers to her questions by studying in Cairns. “JCU is one of the best universities in Australia to study Global Development, especially for those who are looking for a good theoretical background,” she says. “And besides, I also wanted to study in a tropical environment.”

The importance of public health

When Risa’s contract with JICA ended, she had already received an offer to study the Master of Global Development at JCU. “While waiting for uni to start in Australia, I decided to study a diploma in tropical medicine in Nagasaki, Japan.”

Risa says that the experience in Madagascar had changed her, especially as many people there were struggling with chronic illnesses. “I felt that being healthy is a fundamental human right, and people should not be deprived of this due to their socio-economic situation," she says.

“I wanted to learn more about public health, help prevent disease and promote people's health in developing countries,” she says. “In contrast to a medical doctor, who looks at the individual, public health focuses on improving the health of the majority of people in a community. That was really interesting to me.”

This passion led Risa to expand her studies to include public health with the Master of Public Health - Master of Global Development.

Risa Tsuchiya in Madagascar.
Risa Tsuchiya volunteer.
Risa Tsuchiya volunteering in Madagascar (supplied).

A multi-faceted field

Risa says that her favourite subjects so far have been and . “I learned a wide range of academic theories in the field of global development, which enabled me to consider international issues from multiple perspectives,” she says.

“It was also very beneficial to actually write a non-government organisation's project proposal as well as country and sector profiles during classes,” she says. “This will be a big advantage for my career.”

Risa says she enjoyed meeting postgraduate students who originated from developing countries themselves. “I have learned a lot about real-life situations and the students’ viewpoints through conversations inside and outside the lectures,” she says.

Striking a balance as an international student

However, Risa pointed out that international students can only study . This is also why she recently moved from Cairns to Townsville, so she can participate in internal public health subjects for her final two semesters.

Looking back at her stay in Cairns, Risa says that it can be a challenge to strike a balance between studying and life outside uni. “I guess it is important not only to think about studying, but also to engage in other activities – perhaps even working a few hours per week. This can be good for your mental health if you can make the time.”

After graduation, Risa is planning to return home to Japan and work for a non-government organisation (NGO), as her partner is living in Japan as well.

“I am considering becoming a professional in international cooperation who is also knowledgeable in the public health sphere,” she says.

Want to know more about global development and public health? Read the experiences of Dr Kearrin Sims, who supports development in communities at both the local and global level through his research.

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