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PhD student gets hands on in Kenya

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Only a few months ago, Elsabé du Plessis’s PhD work took her all the way to the African country of Kenya.


du Plessis, who is enrolled in Community Health Science at the University of Manitoba, spent three months in Kenya from September to November, 2012, as a Students for Development Intern working on a maternal and child health, and food security project.


The Students for Development program, which is funded by  the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and set up through the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, sends students from universities all over Canada on internships in developing and emerging countries to work on projects set up by the universities.


The U of M’s Students for Development project, which is set up by the Centre for Global Public Health, sees researchers partnering with the University of Nairobi, Christan Reform World Relief Committee and Pwani Christian Community Services to improve the maternal and child health of those living in the project area.


The project is taking place in a rural area outside of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, an area which du Plessis said is very dry half the year, making it difficult to grow food. du Plessis said this particular area also struggles with human-wildlife conflicts, and whatever food the people grow is often eaten by wildlife.


du Plessis was the first of the U of M students to take part in the Kenyan project, and was involved in the initial setup.


"I was doing a lot of the pre-work involved (with the project)," said du Plessis, a Crescentwood resident.


Upon her return, another two U of M students set out to Kenya. The U of M is also hosting two Kenyan students for a semester, with the goal of allowing them to network and increase their awareness.

While in Kenya, some of du Plessis’s main tasks were to set up household surveys asking locals about health and nutrition, focusing specifically on pregnant women and women with youth children.

While researchers speculate those living in the area are struggling with malnutrition, the aim of the project is to figure out to what extent malnutrition is occurring and where, and to work to find a solution.


du Plessis said the chance to participate in the internship gave her an opportunity to get hands on and get involved in the community.


"It really allowed me to get into the community and be involved in a lot of the partnerships," du Plessis said.


du Plessis, who grew up in South Africa, and  also spent two years working in Uganda for her Masters research, said despite the fact it wasn’t her first time working in a developing country, the experience is always an eye opener.


"Every time you do something like this it opens your eyes to things that are a little bit different, and you see yourself differently. It’s always a good experience and you really get to know yourself," du Plessis said.


For more information on Students for Development go to aucc.ca. If you wish to speak to du Plessis more about the U of M’s project and her experiences, contact her at elplessis@gmail.com

danielle.finch@canstarnews.com

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