Julia Bryson, 20
Program: Bachelor of Science Honours Degree
Major: Bio-Medical Science
Thanks to the support of the Summerlee Humanitarian Award, I had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant in May and June of 2017 for a community-based research project focused on maternal and infant health in the Batwa communities of Kanungu District, Uganda. The Batwa are an Indigenous population and were hunter-gatherers in the forests of Southwest Uganda, until they were forcibly evicted in 1991 upon creation of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The Batwa have faced discrimination and a challenging transition to an agricultural livelihood outside of their former forest home, which has contributed to negative health outcomes. The Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) project, co-lead by my supervisor, UofG Assistant Professor Dr. Sherilee Harper, has been working with the Batwa since 2010 to characterize their current and future health vulnerabilities, and develop plans for adaptation in the context of changing climate. While in Uganda, our team visited all ten Batwa communities in the Kanungu District, as well as ten Bakiga communities (the non-Indigenous people of the area), and surveyed approximately 600 women about their maternal health histories. I also had the opportunity to collect data for an independent undergraduate thesis project which will examine associations between climate and maternal nutrition and food security in Kanungu district. Food security is one of the greatest challenges presented by climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, and currently it has been identified as the biggest barrier to better health outcomes in Batwa communities. Women in these communities are responsible for food acquisition, primarily through manual labour. During pregnancy, this responsibility becomes difficult as women struggle to meet their dietary calorie and nutrient requirements. To learn more, I conducted eight focus group interviews—four in Batwa communities and four in Bakiga communities—and spoke with 36 women in total about their experiences with food during pregnancy. What I have learned from these women will contribute to a novel case study of the impacts of climate on maternal nutrition and food security, an important topic currently not well-represented in the literature. It is my hope that this research will contribute to the body of work helping to improve life for the Batwa women and other groups facing similar challenges. Overall, receiving the Summerlee Humanitarian Scholarship has allowed me to actively participate in research that engages communities, builds meaningful enduring relationships, and contributes to informing and improving humanitarian efforts in Batwa communities in Uganda, and for that I am truly grateful.
In the future, my goal is to become a physician and contribute to the improvement of global health as a part of Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF). Medicine is something I am passionate about and believe that I would excel at, and the opportunity to work with an organization like MSF to combine these interests with my love for humanitarianism is my dream. My time spent working in Uganda interacting with women in the communities and the inspiring physicians at Bwindi Community Hospital certainly solidified this desire to work in underserved populations, whether in Canada or abroad.
I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the donor(s) of the Summerlee Humanitarian Award for your generous support of my work in Uganda. My passion for humanitarianism is long-standing, and I know that I will continue to draw from all of the new experiences and challenges this trip provided for years to come. My time spent in Uganda has affirmed that working with underserved communities is something I want to continue to pursue, and it has furthered my interest in community-based health research. I hope that the results of my project on maternal nutrition and food security will be able to inform interventions that help improve wellbeing for the Batwa women and others facing similar challenges. Without your investment, I may not have been able to participate in this life-changing experience, and so I can’t possibly thank you enough for your support.