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Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

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Bringing HealthLeads to Canada

Helping make it possible for a Palestinian student to come to UBC

Helping international students

Sending eye charts to Nepal and India

Creating a virtual and actual Parental Resource Centre



We are bringing a program called HealthLeads to Canada. We are starting in Vancouverís Downtown Eastside. HealthLeads supplements what doctors and nurses can do by addressing the social determinants of health.

For example, if you want to manage someone's asthma, give the person an inhaler. But if you want to cure a person's asthma, help reduce the felt stress in that person's life. (Asthma is caused by an environmental irritant + stress. Remove the stress; the asthma is cured.)

Obstacles to good health are lack of, or insecurity about, things like food, heat, or housing, and to feel dis-respected, powerlessness, or lacking in dignity or hope. HealthLeads interns address exactly that. We help empower people, first by simply listening, making sure people feel heard, and by treating them with dignity. Then by helping to address the concrete stresses in families' lives, like persistent cockroaches at home or endless paperwork or red tape to get benefits they are owed. We help connect people to essential resources and empower them to take more charge of their health.

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of the local JEWISH and MUSLIM/ARAB Communities and UBC
to make it possible for a student from
to come to UBC each year

In late 2008, Dr. Adele Diamond read about the remarkable Sari Nusseibeh, President of a Palestinian University (Al Quds) in the Occupied Territories of Israel.   Al- Quds is heroically trying to provide a world-class education to their severely needy, underserved population, and it is committed to trying to find ways to dialogue with, and live alongside of, Israeli Jews. Dr. Diamond dashed off 3 emails...

--- to her rabbi, Rabbi David Mivasair, who has been at the forefront of dialogue and joint activities with the Muslim community in Vancouver.   I asked if he thought that the Jewish and Muslim/Arab communities could combine resources to pay the airfare for one student or recent grad from Al- Quds to UBC each year to get advanced training unavailable at Al- Quds

--- to the president of UBC, Pres. Stephen Toope, to see if UBC would forego all fees and tuition for one student or recent grad from Al- Quds per year so he/she could study or train at UBC

---- to Sari Nusseibeh to see if Al- Quds would be interested in having a student or recent grad from Al- Quds come to UBC each year to get advanced training unavailable at Al- Quds

Amazingly, everyone said yes!!

In June 2009 the VP for Research at UBC, Prof. John Hepburn, flew to Israel to meet with his equivalent at Al- Quds, Prof. Samira Barghouthi, to sign the formal agreement between the two universities.

At least for the first year, UBC will also cover all the expenses for an Al Quds faculty member to also come to UBC for a year.

A Palestinian faculty member at UBC, Rafeef Abugharbieh (Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering) has joined Diamond, Mivasair, and Hepburn in doing the work to make this happen.

The first Al Quds student and faculty member in the program will arrive Fall 2010.

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UBC provides lots of services for incoming undergraduate students from abroad who begin in the Fall.   However, international students who begin UBC in mid-year (Winter Term 2) have had to fend for themselves more, often without access to the dorms until the night before classes begin.   They arrive here from 1,000's of miles away- often knowing not a soul, without a Canadian bank account, without a student ID, without school supplies or basic living supplies, sometimes without any winter clothing.

We created a program for UBC faculty and graduate students to help in welcoming international students who begin UBC mid-year (especially before classes start and the array of UBC services begin).   We thought that a friendly offer of ‘hello’ and help would be appreciated, especially when arriving alone in a distant land.  

Beginning in the Fall of 2008, we arranged to get information on all international students arriving for a January start-date, and created a website that lists the age, gender, and country of origin of these incoming undergraduates:


Faculty or graduate students can offer to meet a student at the airport when he/she arrives from abroad, can offer to have the student stay that their house or to come over for a home-cooked meal, and/or to help the student get some things sorted out -- like opening a bank account, getting essential supplies, finding his/her way around UBC and Vancouver -- before the craziness of the new term starts.   We then match an incoming student and host.

What a WONDERFUL, GRATIFYING response we received!!  

Even in its first year, hours after our email went out announcing the program, hosts / helpers / greeters for all incoming foreign students were found.   What a wonderful outpouring!

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When Prof. Diamond visited a Tibetan school (the Upper TCV) outside Dharamsala, the headmaster mentioned that many of the best children in the oldest grades wear eyeglasses, which he attributed to all their long hours of study putting a strain on their eyes.   But, when Prof. Diamond asked if children receive vision testing or screening, the headmaster indicated they did not.   Thus, it seemed possible that causality might be in the other direction:

the children whose families arrange for them to get their vision tested, and get eyeglasses for them if needed, are able to see what is on the board in class and are able to read their lessons without eye strain, and so succeed, and that perhaps other children could get more out of school and succeed better if only they could receive the vision correction they need.

So, we arranged for the means for them to get their vision checked at no cost, in a way that can be done yearly or biennially.

Many eye charts have the letters of the alphabet, which doesn't work if you don't know that alphabet or can’t read.  

One eye chart uses the letter E in different orientations.   Here, a child can just be asked which way the legs of the "table" are pointing or facing.   No ability to read is needed.

It is appropriate for all ages.

Eye doctors may underestimate the power of memory.   We find that after testing one eye, we can answer for the other eye from memory of the items on the chart, whether we can see them or not.   One company makes 3 equivalent versions of the eye chart with the letter E so that after testing one eye, the next chart can be used for the other eye, and in doing fine adjustments for finding exactly the right correction, the third chart can be used.  

The eye chart with 3 versions is much, much more expensive than the eye charts that only have one version, but I thought having alternate versions was sufficiently important to be worth it. The eye charts are pliable but very sturdy; they are made of durable laminated card stock.

We purchased and sent 6 sets of these letter E charts (3 charts per set - 18 charts total) -- half to the home office of the Dalai Lama for Tibetan children in India, in TCVs and elsewhere and to Matthieu Ricard’s monastery in Kathmandu for poor children in Nepal at monastery’s Bamboo Schools or anywhere else.

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We feel that every parent wants to be a good parent, but many feel they don't know where to turn for advice, guidance, or help.

This a multi-disciplinary effort including folks from Pediatrics, Public Health, Infant Development, Social Work, Nursing, and of course, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

We are working to develop (1) a one-stop shop online resource for parents, with an index, cross-referencing, search engine, research reviews and discussion, and guidance for parents on choosing programs that best fit their needs, and (2) opportunities for face-to-face, person-to-person contact between caregivers and those with experience, expertise or information that the caregiver feels might be helpful.


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