Lessons from Rwanda

International Nutrition Students

International Nutrition Students

Six of our International Nutrition students put their knowledge into practice as part of a nutrition project in Rwanda this past spring.

Led by Judy McLean, Adjunct Professor, Food, Nutrition & Health, the students spent between six weeks and three months in Rwanda, working in partnership with local students to conduct a household survey on the causes of malnutrition.

“In rural Rwanda, one in five kids die before age five,” says McLean. “The diet, based on bananas and cassava, is partly responsible for the high rate of malnutrition, but poor infant and child feeding practices and lack of clean water are more to blame.  Diversifying crops is difficult due to inadequate rainfall and lack of arable land.”

The students surveyed more than 400 households in 40 villages. The information collected will inform a nutrition intervention proposal.

“You can study food security and nutrition, but it’s completely different to experience it,” says Roberta Wozniak, a recent Nutritional Science graduate who saw first-hand the challenges the country is facing.

Outside a nearby orphanage, Wozniak met Pascasie, a 22 year old, HIV positive, genocide orphan, and her 7-month-old son Chelsea.  She measured the boy’s mid upper arm circumference; it was the diameter of a loonie, indicating severe malnourishment.

Although her son needed to be hospitalized, Pascasie didn’t have the $2 fee and so the hospital didn’t want to admit him. Thanks to the students’ intervention, however, the doctor eventually relented and treated the child.

“Navigating through the system, getting Chelsea treated and tested for HIV- there’s no way I can teach the reality of that in the classroom,” McLean adds.

Gurjeet Kaur agrees.  “The practical experience of being out in the field is very important,” she says. “You gain a different perspective when you are actually out there interacting with people.”

Kaur is heading back to Rwanda in September to take part in the second stage of the project, which includes collecting more qualitative data via key informant interviews, focus groups and discussions.

See more stories like this: