Her Fort Garry parents were nervous, her brothers didn’t want her to go at all, but Rachel Evans travelled across the world to help study how mortality rates can be reduced in Kenya through proper agriculture.
What she learned there will stay with her for the rest of her life.
The University of Manitoba plant science masters student returned from the east African country on March 31 after spending three months in one of its poorest regions, Taita Taveta County.
"This region isn’t even supposed to be used for farming," said Evans. "They just have nowhere else to go."
In addition to drought, erratic rainfall, and deforestation, the region’s 284,657 residents have to deal with some very large and unwelcome neighbours. Located between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, elephants have a habit of wandering onto farmlands and destroying crops.
While there, Evans helped to teach people about kitchen gardens and a larger variety of vegetables which benefit health in hopes food sustainability and health in the region. Evans said the typical diet was very high in carbohydrates with ‘ugali’ or maize flour as a staple.
"Educating the values of dark leafy green vegetables and orange fleshy vegetables, so that is not just about giving out handouts, but educating the community so they will be able to feed themselves in a more healthy way," said Evans.
Evans was recruited by her master’s supervisor to join the "Mwanzo Mwena" project, in Kiswahili, "Healthy Start" in English.
The project was developed by U of M’s Centre on Global Public Health, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and partnered with Kenya’s World Renew organization and the Pwani Anglican Church of Kenya.
The project’s main goal is to reduce maternal and child mortality rates by improving family planning, nutrition, and food security. Determining food security meant Evans helping by surveying families.
By asking everything from what they are growing to measuring the circumference of their upper arms, the project, with the help of Evans, found 43 to 65% of households were severely insecure.
"When asked ‘in times when there was low food, would everyone receive less, or would some people receive none?’ Of the people who said that some would receive none, 90% were the wives," said Evans. "So when women in poverty are pregnant and do not get enough food, then their children don’t get enough food and it causes developmental delays."
The biggest impact her trip had on her was the realization of what women can do when empowered. Evans saw that in Taita Taveta County women were mothers, farmers, and cooks for their families.
Coming home from Africa, Evans has realized how lucky she is as a Canadian.
"Food security is very low in Kenya sure, but look at Manitoba," said Evans. "There are places here that can’t afford, or get, proper nutrition."