Natural disaster focus gets PM boost

Gold Coast student Nicola Banwell is off to Canberra to collect a Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award for 2011 on Wednesday.

The award, valued up to $53,000, is a springboard to another exciting journey for the Griffith University Public Health student.

Nicola will spend 18 months in China where her honours year research project will focus on the effects of natural disasters on mental health, and what measures are in place to prevent mental health problems.

The 21-year-old will develop her research plan at the highly-rated University of Peking for six months before embarking on a year-long internship through regional communities affected by floods, drought, landslides and earthquakes.

Before all that comes a meeting with Julia Gillard and Wednesday’s ACT presentation ceremony where she will share the stage with 19 other Endeavour Award undergraduate recipients.

The Australia Asia Endeavour Awards are elite scholarships for top university students to spend six to 12 months in Asia as part of their degree, followed by an internship or work placement in Asia.

“I’m hopeful that my study can inform management of natural disasters in Australia, mainly because in China they have so many more of these weather events,” Nicola said.

“Disasters can have severe social impacts, triggering psychological, demographic, economic and political changes.

“I will examine individual coping strategies and how competent and efficient people are when a natural disaster happens.

“I will also focus on self esteem and confidence. A person’s ability to take action can be affected when these are undermined.

“In China, the work in this area is more upstream with a preventative focus through education helping people to be more prepared and able to deal with natural disaster.”

Nicola’s interest in international development aid has its origins in South Africa, where she spent time as a child. She retains vivid images of poverty-stricken townships.

Her research will take her into some of China’s most rural communities affected by natural disaster to be selected by her Griffith University supervisor Dr Jing Sun.

The Australia Asia Endeavour Awards are open to Australian undergraduates and postgraduates in any field of study, with 20 undergraduate and 20 postgraduate awards nationally presented each year.

Griffith University medical science student Stuart Sharry, also from the Gold Coast, received the award in 2010.