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WHE News
October 2014
Western Serves

One of our Community Engaged Learning programs, Western Serves is a campus-wide event which allows students, staff and faculty to go out into the community and support the great work of our partner organizations.

Be it Fall cleaning and painting, to cooking, planting trees and more, our Western volunteers spend an afternoon helping community organizations.

Western Serves is also a great opportunity for non-profits to showcase what they do and their impact in the community, so that volunteers can continue their support for the efforts of the organization after the event has finished.

Western Serves 2014 took place on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Western Heads East hosted a group of volunteers to get acquainted with the Western Heads east Program and to raise awareness and funds for the program.

An informative presentation was given by the Co-Chairs of the Student and Education Committee: Samira Matan and Zahra Bhanji. After the presentation, the volunteers proceeded to create imaginative posters that they then used to promote awareness of the program on campus throughout at events throughout the year.

During the final part of the day; the volunteers helped the executives promote WHE across campus to students, faculty, and staff using their posters and selling bracelets and raised $71 dollars for the program!

So overall western serves 2014 was a great success!

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July 2014
Display at SUNFEST

Western Heads East and Western International's partnerships with Africa were on display in London, Ontario at this year's SUNFEST where Western Heads East (WHE), African Canadian Federation of London and Area (ACFOLA) and African Community Council (ACC) shared a booth at the festival. The booth for the group was named 'Organizations Serving Africa' and provided information about various community engagement programs from each of the three organizations. The groups also showcased interesting activities and displays at the booth.

In London, ACFOLA and ACC are two organizations that support the African communities. The African Canadian Federation of London and Area (ACFOLA) was started in 2009 as a federation of various African community associations who mobilized themselves to tackle common challenges regarding employment, settlement and health in the African communities. ACFOLA has conducted two conferences tagged the Moving Forward African Canadian Conference, first held in 2010 to foster inclusion, integration and engagement opportunities in London, and then in 2013 on Employment and Economic Development. Through these conferences, engagement with communities, partnerships with provincial and municipal service providers and governments, ACFOLA continues to empower the African community.

The African Community Council (ACC) became a non-profit organization in March 2008 and provides settlement services, educational programs and other support services for refugees and immigrants in need. The ACC has received funding from Status of Women Canada and has partnered with other community agencies to make it easier for African women and girls who have been impacted by violence to access community supports. ACC had also implemented a homework club program in London for youth, to help decrease rates of dropouts.

Western Heads East began as a collaborative intervention to help combat HIV/AIDS, and has now grown to become a program that also enhances nutrition, maternal health, economic development, the empowerment of women and general community health and sustainable development. Through the program, Western students, staff and faculty collaborate with East African partners to apply pioneering research with probiotic foods in order to address real problems for direct humanitarian benefit.

During the festival, all three organizations collaborated to showcase their services to Africa and Africans.

Click here to view the photo album.

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March 2014
Western Heads East has 3 Internship Opportunities!

Western Heads East has three current opportunities for internship in Africa. The first opportunity is for a health science or science student intern in Mwanza, Tanzania. The intern will work with the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences to explore the feasibility of establishing a Global Health Promotions course in collaboration with the Health Sciences program at Western. The intern will work with the research team leader at CUHAS to coordinate meetings and activities of the local research team, assist with developing course content, and assist with administrative tasks related to research tools and interviews. The intern applicants must demonstrate knowledge and interest in global health promotions and social determinants of health. Strong organization and communication skills are required.

The second opportunity is for two science or nutrition student interns in Nairobi, Kenya. The intern will work with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) as they explore the sustainability needs of the 3 kitchens established in Oyugis/Kiritu, Kenya. The interns will also assess the feasibility of establishing a new kitchen with interested groups in the area of JKUAT. The interns must demonstrate knowledge and interest in learning the production process of the probiotic yoghurt, be interested in microbiology and have an understanding of social enterprise. Lab experience culturing bacteria is an asset to collaborate with local partners to address local goals.

The third opportunity is for a social science or business student intern in Mwanza, Tanzania. The intern will work with Saint Augustine University as they explore the sustainability needs of the 10+ yoghurt kitchens in Mwanza. The intern will also work in collaboration with the Kivulini Women's Rights Organization to assess the progress and priorities of the SASA program to end violence against women. The intern applicants must demonstrate knowledge and interest in learning the production process of probiotic yoghurt, be interested in social enterprise, and have an awareness of issues related to violence against women.

If you meet the above conditions, please submit a resume, cover letter and a word document with answers to the following four questions to Cheryl Briglia at no later than, March 11, 2104. Early applications are encouraged. All short-listed applicants will be asked to meet with the Western Heads East Selection Committee for 30 minutes.

  1. What excites you the most about this international summer internship opportunity with East African partners of the Western Heads East Program? (100 words)
  2. Describe the specific research or academic outcome (e.g. independent studies, case studies, thesis) that this internship will help you fulfill in your current program of studies at Western. (100 words)
  3. Outline specifically how the outcomes of this research project or internship assignment will benefit the local community. (100 words)
  4. Provide the full contact information for the faculty member who has agreed to supervise your research/course work should your application be successful.

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November 2013
November 12 - 15 is International Week at Western.

On November 14, Western Heads East, will be hosting a simultaneous public event coordinated amongst WHE's partner countries, where internet/video connectivity will allow real-time interaction between WHE staff, interns, and students within the Western community, and its African affiliates. This event is being held at the Chu International Centre, Room 2130 UCC. The schedule includes:

  • 9:00-10:30 : Interactive Event
  • 10:30-12:00 : Poster Displays by recent interns
  • 12:00-1:30 : Recent interns' presentations
  • 1:30-4:30 : Various entertainment and activities, as well as a probiotic yoghurt making station with free samples

For information, check out the website at:

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August 2013

One of the challenges of the community kitchens is the consistency and quality of the probiotic to ensure it confers maximum health benefits to consumers and people living with HIV/AIDs. The National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania (NIMR), is an important partner to our efforts in Africa. The growing number of probiotic yoghurt kitchens has created challenges for NIMR to produce adequate amounts of the bacterial starter culture.

This Fall, Western faculty and visiting African graduate students are experimenting with a powder version of the probiotic culture in the form of GR1/RC14 capsules which would alleviate the consistency and quality management concerns as well as reduce our dependency on labs.

NIMR could focus on quality control testing and research partnerships rather than producing the starter culture for the community kitchens. The GR1/RC14 capsules simply have to be added to the milk to make the yoghurt, reducing the costs of building labs, specialized equipment, personnel and training.

Local partners such as the African Probiotic Yoghurt Network (APYN) or individual kitchens could easily take charge of this process with minimal help from their international partners, empowering the larger community in the process.

Not only would the GR1/RC14 capsules eliminate some of the costs associated with current daily operations, they would also increase the accessibility of this potentially life-saving yoghurt to underserviced regions in Africa.

The GR1/RC14 capsule would have tremendous impacts on our grassroots endeavours, leading to an increase in the number of kitchens in remote areas, supporting a rise in yoghurt production and more importantly, distributing our probiotic to greater numbers of people. On a long-term basis, implementing the GR1/RC14 capsules in the present model would allow us to further engage the local population to become more involved with the yoghurt making process and mobilize the community to deal with the HIV/AIDs crisis in a productive way.

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March 2013

Community Mobilization in Comparative Contexts:
Intercultural Strategies to Address Violence against Women and Children

  • Friday, March 22nd,1pm - 4pm
  • Faculty of Education, Western University (Community Room 1139)


There are many successful community-based initiatives in addressing the issue of violence against women and children, both in Canada and abroad. In this half-day symposium, we aim to share knowledge about intercultural strategies that have been used in Tanzania and in London, Ontario to mobilize communities to address and prevent abuse in different cultures.

The symposium will bring together individuals from both Africa and Canada to discuss the roles they play in community mobilization, as well as education and prevention initiatives from these diverse cross-cultural contexts. The main aim of the symposium is to ask what we can learn from a comparative perspective about intercultural strategies to mobilize communities to deal, head-on, with the global issue of violence against women and children. The symposium will consist of an opening panel, breakout sessions, and regrouping together for sharing and final discussion.


  • Mohammed Baobaid (Executive Director, Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration)
  • Maimuna Kanyamala (Former Director, Kivulini Women's Rights Organization, Tanzania)
  • Anna Hendrikx, Executive Director and Lisa Widdifield, Outreach Coordinator, Across Languages Translation and Interpretation Services
  • Sue, Survivor Liaison and Dawn, Project Coordinator (Survivor Voices Inclusion Project sponsored by The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses)


Conference registration fees – Students/Unwaged = $5; All Others = $10
(Please bring cash or cheque to the symposium to cover your registration.)

This symposium is sponsored by (CREVAWC) Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women & Children, the RICE (Research in International and Contemporary Education) group, and Western Heads East.

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September 2012
African Probiotic Yoghurt Network

In December 2011, after 7 years of WHE interns and kitchens in Africa, the African Probiotic Yoghurt Network (APYN) was created. The APYN is a formal network of women's groups collaborating on development, subsidy for people living with HIV/AIDS, and mutual support.

It was established with the support of Western Heads East (WHE), Kivulini/Mikono Yetu, and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) who have a long history of implementing community health and development projects in East Africa.

APYN supports the establishment, development, and continuation of small-scale probiotic yoghurt community health micro-enterprises that economically empower at risk and/or impoverished women and youth while at the same time improving community health and nutrition, especially for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Western Heads East is extremely excited about this project as it represents an organically African organization and local ownership of the program. WHE will continue to lend APYN its support throughout the years to come.

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Summer 2012
Western Heads East celebrates its 10th anniversary!

It's hard to believe it's been 10 whole years since that fateful day in 2002 when, at a Housing conference on campus, the vision behind WHE was conceived. It was there that Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, poignantly described the overwhelming plight caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Inspired by Lewis' words, a group of Western's Housing staff immediately formed a committee in response, aimed at going beyond financial contributions to battle this crisis at the grassroots level.

Plans were set in motion almost immediately, starting with a fundraising event to raise money for Bob Gough, WHE Program Director, to travel to Mwanza and pitch the program's initiative. With the help of Maimuna Kanyamala, the Director of the Kivulini Women's Rights Organization, a meeting was arranged with The Tukwamuane Women's Group. As expected, their response was overwhelmingly positive, and just like that, Western Heads East hit the ground running! Feeling energized, and not wanting to waste any more time, Bob made sure to purchase pots, pans and burners before leaving Africa. These were put to use less than three months later when we sent our first two interns (Brian and Cynthia), who helped teach local women how to make yoghurt right in their apartment!

Over the next three years, the focus turned to the program's development and sustainability to finally get where we are now. Today, we are so very proud to say that over 50 student interns and more than 20 staff/faculty members have spent time in East Africa. As of this summer, there are eight community kitchens operating in Mwanza, three in Kenya and one starting up in Rwanda as we speak. By December 2013, our goal is to have 20 kitchens in place, with 55 people receiving yoghurt at each location free of charge, thanks to the generous grant from Dr. Marianne Larsen, Faculty of Education, Western University.

A very successful 10 years WHE! Here's to many, many more.

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May 2012
Bob Gough, Program Director - Western Heads East, receives the 2012 Western Humanitarian Award.
Read the full story in Western News.
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March 2012
In the Market for Western Heads East

It's that special time of year again! The entire Western Heads East team is busy with last minute preparations for our annual 'In the Market' fundraising gala.

We are thrilled to welcome back Maimuna Kanyamala, Executive Director of Kivulini Women's Rights Organization in Mwanza, Tanzania as our keynote speaker, as well as many other special guests.

Our silent auction will undoubtedly be a hit again this year, featuring many enticing packages from generous local sponsors such as a round trip for two between London and Montreal courtesy of VIA Rail or a two-night stay in a deluxe guestroom at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.

This year's gala will be held at the Great Hall on the Western University campus on Thursday March 22 from 4:00-6:30. For more details, check out the updated Events section of our website.

For now, please take some time to look at pictures from last year's event and be sure to reserve your ticket from Cheryl Briglia ( or online at:

We look forward to seeing you there!

In the Market 2011 Photos
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February 2012
International Opportunities Fund Grant Approval

As you may have heard, Western Heads East recently received an overwhelming $1.06 million dollar donation from one of Western's very own professors, and WHE chair, Dr. Marianne Larsen.

Thanks to her generous gift, WHE will be able to provide probiotic yoghurt to people living with HIV/AIDS free of charge over the next ten years.

Larsen said she's been inspired by the Yoghurt Mamas and their stories of how the concoction has changed the lives of so many people who would otherwise have nowhere else to turn.

"I can't say enough about Western Heads East," she says. "It's great on so many different levels. It builds on grassroots knowledge here at Western and supports existing communities working together."

The impact of this money is already being felt, as the Yoghurt Mamas will see an immediate upgrade to four existing yogurt kitchens in Tanzania and 16 new kitchens throughout eastern Africa. This translates into an increased capacity to feed 1,100 people each day living with HIV/AIDS over the next decade!

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January 2012

At Western Heads East we commonly receive inquiries concerning the safety, health benefits, and production of the probiotic cultures. In this month's News Update we would like to take some time to explain some of our most frequently asked questions.

What are probiotic cultures and why do we use them?

By definition, in order for any microbial strain to be deemed 'probiotic', it has to have been proven to confer a health benefit upon the host, and have undergone rigorous testing. The addition of helpful probiotic cultures to yoghurt allows the Mamas to produce yoghurt branded and known as 'Fiti', which means 'health' in Swahili. Swahili is the primary language spoken in many East African countries. There is evidence that the use of probiotic yoghurt can improve the immune function in some HIV patients. The health improvement of individuals receiving the Fiti has been recognized by both the Mamas and interns.

Are probiotic cultures safe to use?

There are two parts to this explanation. The first part concerns the safety of actually producing the probiotic culture and the second concerns the safety of providing such a product to individuals with compromised immune function.

The safety record of yoghurt with and without probiotics is exemplary. Clear processes and protocols for food handling are consistently implemented. Any remaining issues concerning adequate food handling and cross contamination are countered by the fact that fermented milk contained in yoghurt can itself act as an inhibitor of pathogens.

Further, the probiotic strains are known to inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens including E. coli, a common cause of potentially life-threatening symptoms such as diarrhea. Also, in the unlikely event that pathogenic contamination does ever occur, the yoghurt will immediately sour and become unsafe for consumption through both taste and visible appearance.

There have been studies performed testing for the concerns raised about giving probiotics to HIV/AIDS patients. It was once feared that the live bacteria contained in probiotic cultures would enter the bloodstream of immune suppressed patients. Research has provided us with evidence that probiotics can improve the gut barrier function that protects against bacterial translocation, thereby reducing rather than increasing the risk of infection by the probiotic or intestinal pathogens.

Where do we get the probiotic cultures?

There exist only 12 proven probiotic cultures in Canada, and each is owned by a for-profit company. In order to utilize the proven health benefits of probiotic cultures we were required to either pay one of the private companies for use of their particular culture or develop our own. Dr. Sharareh Hekmat, a professor of Foods and Nutritional Sciences at Brescia University College, developed the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 microbial strain. With the gracious approval of Dr. Hekmat, Dr. Gregor Reid, and Chr Hansen, the probiotic culture was donated for use in our humanitarian projects in 2004. Today, we rely on the support of local labs to provide the probiotic culture regularly to Mamas so that they may incorporate the product into their yoghurt for marketing and distribution. Researchers are currently trying to create a product that allows the kitchen mamas to simply add a pre-determined dried powder to the yoghurt to produce 'Fiti'. Unfortunately, this is not a simple process and the research is ongoing.

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December 2011
Probiotic Research

The latest probiotic research has been at the centre of our organization's motivation to help assist the millions of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. The incorporation of healthy probiotic bacteria into an easily produced yoghurt product has been empirically shown to lower mortality and increase the quality of life for those suffering from HIV/AIDS as well as from the effects of malnutrition.

Here at Western Heads East, we are always excited to share with you the latest ground breaking research that has granted us the ability to do what we do. Please take some time to review our collection of published research articles and publications to learn more about the benefits of probiotics.

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November 2011

Here at Western Heads East, we welcome many questions concerning how one can help contribute to our cause. While we are always open to accepting charitable donations, there are other ways that you can help make a difference in the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

You can choose to participate in one of our many charitable events throughout the year or perhaps organize one yourself! If you are a student or staff member and do not have the time to join a committee, we encourage you come and help out with an event.

This year we have a 'pay it forward' bracelet campaign starting in late November and our goal is to have everyone on campus wearing one by the end of the year - come help make bracelets or help get the word out!

If you are a student interested in witnessing WHE initiatives in Africa first hand, you can apply for one of our student intern positions in Tanzania, Kenya, or Rwanda. However you choose to get involved, we encourage you to participate in this important cause. Without the help and support of the local community we could not have accomplished what we have.

Students and staff interested in joining the WHE fundraising committee can email

Faculty members are invited to join the Research Committee to take part in the Western Heads East project. Please Contact

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October 2011

A Western Serves team made almost 400 bracelets and sold half, making nearly $400 in one hour for Western Heads East (WHE)!

On Saturday, September 26th, ten enthusiastic volunteers spent their afternoon learning more about the WHE program and contributing their energy to the "Pay It Forward" Bracelet campaign to be launched in November.

After learning about the campaign, the group spent an hour and a half making bracelets, rehearsing their sales pitches, then hit the streets to sell bracelets. Proceeds will help provide probiotic yoghurt for people living with AIDS in Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda and assist with student intern expenses.

The day was a great success and there was a good feeling in the room. One volunteer was excited to learn Western Heads East was a home grown program of The University of Western Ontario, as opposed to 'Western culture' program available at other Canadian universities.

A great big thank you to the wonderful group of volunteers, their group facilitator and the Western Serves program!

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Fall 2009
Fall Red Ribbon Report 2009 - pdf
Partnering with Africa for health and sustainable development through probiotics.
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