The MEGA project was born in Riga in the autumn of 2015 during the European Conference of Mental Health. Mari Lahti and Heikki Ellilä, Principal Lecturers at Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS) participated in the conference arrangements and met a colleague from South Africa, Ronelle Jansen. Together they started to consider different opportunities for future project collaboration. Ronelle’s words, “even the poorest of the poor have a smartphone in Africa” stayed in their mind. In fact, they were the words that created the project.
Two years later Mari and Heikki met Ronelle again, this time in Pretoria, in the kick-off meeting of the project. The funding (EUR 1 million) came from the Erasmus+ Capacity Building programme. The primary objective of the project is to improve the mental health of children and young people in southern Africa, particularly in South Africa and Zambia, by developing a mobile phone application for early detection of mental health problems. The app can be used in primary health care services also in the most remote regions. During the three-year project, the intention is also to teach employees to use the new app by arranging innovation pedagogical training both for higher education teachers and primary health care professionals. After this, the app will be piloted in South Africa and Zambia in six provinces. In addition, the project involves a lot of research activities.
In addition to Mari Lahti and Heikki Ellilä, Senior Lecturer Joonas Korhonen from TUAS, the Faculty of Health and Well-being, participated in the project meeting. Anita Narbro and Arina Kiseleva from TUAS RDI Services also work in the project. Kaisa Jokela and Jari Hietaranta participated in drafting the application and planning the project. Many thanks for all participants. The other participating universities are Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW) from Germany, Riga Technical University (RTU) from Latvia, the University of Zambia (UNZA) and Lusaka Apex Medical University (LAMU) from Zambia, and the University of Pretoria (UP), University of Cape Town (UCT), Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of Free State (UFS) from South Africa.
Representatives from all partner universities participated in the kick-off meeting. The participants’ expertise in mental health work is of extremely high level and their commitment to the project is also strong. The meeting took three days and was full of lively discussions and team work. Working with a large group is challenging. The discussion tends to meander and a range of different viewpoints are highlighted. However, in this meeting a consensus was reached regarding main directions and plans for proceeding were outlined. During the evenings, all participants got to know one another while having dinner together. There was luckily enough free time to visit some local sights, go to theatre and attend a small-scale safari.
We would like to thank our Pretoria host, Dr Gerhard Grobler, who took care of all arrangements, additional programme and us, the foreign visitors. As a “host of most”, his hospitality was beyond comparison.