MSc student, Public Health and Health Systems

Shoshannah Speers 

The pandemic pivot

As we were getting news about the COVID-19 outbreak becoming a global pandemic, MSc Public Health and Health Systems student Shoshannah Speers knew she’d have to rethink her research plans. Her intention was to conduct fieldwork in the Philippines with International Care Ministries (ICM), a non-governmental organization that focuses on transforming the lives of income-poor individuals and families. With international travel prohibited and the focus of ICM changing in response to the pandemic, Shoshannah headed back to the drawing board.

Experience of community volunteers during an unprecedented time

ICM shifted its operations to meet pressing food needs across the country resulting from pandemic measures. Households experiencing income poverty faced several immediate challenges. Among them, loss of income resulting in food insecurity meant that the organization tapped into its network of community volunteers to assist. With no shortage of people giving up their time and resources to help out during the COVID-19 crisis, ICM and Shoshannah recognized that there was a need to better understand the experiences of their partner community volunteers. “Volunteers hold a unique position,” says Shoshannah, “they are simultaneously community members, program implementers, and right now, frontline workers.”

Shoshannah's research explained in 60 seconds. Her video was selected as a finalist in Waterloo's 2021 GRADflix competition


Shoshannah’s research is looking at the holistic experience of volunteers; aiming to understand their motivation, perception of their role in their communities, how they balance care of their own families while looking after others in a pandemic and also how their demographic and context influence their ability to carry out the voluntary work. The findings of her study will be able to inform ICM (and others) how to create an improved and supportive crisis response.

Brighter side to challenging times

Data collection during the pandemic created its own challenges. Adapting to a virtual format was complicated as internet, technology access and language barriers varied among community volunteers. Working alongside an interpreter, Shoshannah conducted online meetings where everyone patiently and committedly worked through the virtual interviews. It wasn’t easy – but they got there. Shoshannah’s data collection challenges no doubt reflect similar experiences by many graduate students over the last year.

“The shift brought initial disappointments, but it has also provided me with an opportunity to reflect more deeply on research methods and expanded my view on partnership and collaboration within global health research.”

A positive outcome is that this research has the potential to contribute to important needs right now. This, along with visits to the Philippines in the past and a deep connection to volunteer work has inspired and fueled her passion for this research. As the pandemic persists and communities still need emergency assistance, Shoshannah’s research can help ICM adjust their approach to make sure that community volunteers and the people they’re helping get the support they need.

Learn more about our MSc Public Health and Health Systems program

University of Waterloo