WHE Steering Committee
The Western Heads East project has met only with overwhelming community support every step of the journey. The way in which events unfolded and opportunities presented themselves as the idea grew has been part of a profound experience.
I have been a community activist working to end oppression in the many forms it takes throughout my career. I have been at Western for 16 years and have derived much energy from the supportive community of colleagues and the passion of the students with whom I have had the pleasure to work.
The heart of the project is the yoghurt mamas and their supporting community organizations. It is they who work tirelessly to bring health to their communities and to end poverty. I look forward to the day my partner and daughter meet the wonderful friends I have met in East Africa.
I have studied the role of beneficial bacteria in health for over 27 years. In particular, I have shown that lactobacilli can help protect the vagina from infection, and can provide benefits to the intestine. As some of these bacteria can help produce a good-tasting yoghurt, I proposed to WHE in 2003 that we use this approach and I, along with Chr Hansen, donated Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 for the probiotic yoghurt formula which Dr. Hekmat created.
It is impossible not to be honoured to be part of the WHE project when you see the amazing work that the student interns do, and when you meet the fantastic yoghurt mamas. My students have been helping to uncover the benefits of the yoghurt through clinical trials. To date, these have shown improvements in gut health, energy and immunity. For each life we provide a benefit, our own lives are tenfold blessed.
Dr. Isaac Luginaah is an Associate Professor and a Canada Research Chair in Health Geography, Department of Geography, UWO. Isaac's work involves an integrative understanding of the broad determinants of population health and on environment and health linkages.
His current research includes health impacts of environmental exposure, population health, and HIV/AIDS. He is currently co-leading a World Bank funded project "Probiotic Yoghurt for Health and Nutrition in East Africa: Women Helping Women" in Oyugis, Kenya.
Having come out of Africa and having worked there in the fields of health research, empowerment and social justice, it is particularly uplifting for me to see, live through and experience this great North-South cooperation towards alleviation of some of the hardships that face the African woman. Western Heads East cannot, by any stretch of imagination, do it alone. But every little positive step taken by many will eventually flatten the hump that stands in the way of progress for these women.
Dr. Hekmat is an Associate Professor of Food and Nutritional Sciences at Brescia University College and has been working on development of probiotic dairy products for the last 20 years.
She has developed the probiotic yoghurt that is being used in Mwanza Tanzania as a part of the Western Heads East Project to help improve the nutritional status of people living with HIV/AIDS, and also alleviate the signs and symptoms associated with this disease.
As a Housing staff member at Western, I was aware of the Western Heads East project in its early stages. I became involved with the project because of the unique model involving students, staff and faculty.
However, as the project has developed the one aspect of the project that interests me the most is the effect the project has had on the lives of the individual women in the Tukwamuane Women's Group in Mwanza, Tz. The project is assisting the women to become self-sufficient and earn a small income for their families as well as providing access to the benefits of the probiotic yoghurt.
Studies have also indicated that domestic violence has decreased for many of these women as they become more economically self-sufficient. An offshoot of my involvement with the project is that my son Brandon, who teaches at Clarke Road Secondary School, has twinned with the Mtoni High School in Mwanza and is raising funds for Mtoni while increasing awareness of students at Clarke Road.
I am very fortunate to have met the Yoghurt Mamas in Mwanza and I look forward to a continued relationship with them through the project and seeing the positive changes in their lives and the lives of their families.