On a mission in Ulaanbaatar
BY KATE STANTON
She is passionate about helping people around the world eat and live better, but Lynette Phuong has learnt that being a health advocate can be demanding.
The self-described nutrition “nerd” moved to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last year as a public health officer with Australian Volunteers for International Development, an Australian Government initiative.
It was a huge transition. Mongolians have high rates of smoking and alcohol consumption, putting them at risk of diseases like cancer and diabetes.
“It’s a good place to be if you love junk food. If you’re after a Snickers bar, it’s so cheap,” she says. “Fruit is four times the price.” Yet Phuong (pictured right) loves a challenge.
“It presents a really unique opportunity,” she says. “How do you act? How do you get people to think about what they’re eating?”
Phuong has designed a nutrition app for Mongolians that can link users with personalised nutrition advice and reward them for eating healthy foods. She and her co-workers at the Mongolian Public Health Professionals Association have also launched health awareness campaigns and a mentoring program for public health workers.
Although she is only 27, Phuong’s work in Mongolia follows years of volunteer experience and advocacy work.
After graduating from Monash University with a Bachelor of Commerce and Arts in 2010, Phuong set her sights on fashion design, until the pull of working in public health proved irresistible. She took up an internship at the United Nations and a position at Cancer Council Victoria.
Phuong decided she needed to undertake more study and entered the University of Melbourne’s Master of Public Health program. After an intensive community health course in Jamkhed, India, she was so eager to start worth at she took six subjects in her last semester and graduated early.
Phuong says her desire to help people comes from her parents, Vietnamese refugees who relocated to Melbourne 36 years ago.