I was born and grew up in Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe. Growing up there was fun, a time filled with wonder and discovery as we ran barefoot in the neighborhood, teasing each other or other children, picking fights or standing our ground. We were free to explore the surrounding forests, foraging for wild fruits and other delicacies. Eating from a communal plate was a reality of that time and cemented the family bonds.
My interest of nutrition came from my grandmother, during my secondary school years. She developed diabetes, and I really didn’t understand what it meant. It was, however, ingrained into us grandchildren that we shouldn’t put sugar in her tea, or provide biscuits to accompany her tea, or share our sweets with her. It is clear to me now that my grandmother didn’t understand her illness either, as she unfailingly broke these rules and was masterful in commandeering her grandchildren’s support. After her death, I was still perplexed as I really didn’t understand how what she ate was related to her health.
It was in fact one of my grandmother’s daughters, my mother’s younger sister, who planted the seeds of interest in public health, although the term itself was unknown to me at the time. She worked in child health and development in Zimbabwe and was forever off on what appeared to be exciting trips to conduct child health campaigns in mysterious rural areas of Zimbabwe. It just seemed so exciting and although I really didn’t fully understand it, I knew I wanted to have a job like hers, full of adventure, I was inspired!
When I finished school, I found myself in London, England studying for a professional qualification in general nursing. The relationship between nutrition and health was absolutely clarified whilst on an oncology placement that demonstrated how patients could be supported by nutritional and clinical interventions. However, I was forced to leave nursing in order to pursue my interest in nutrition academically until I gained my doctorate in 2005. Two years later, I volunteered as a nutrition intern in South Sudan, my first foray into nutrition. That was the adventure of my life and I have been hooked ever since! After that I joined a technical consulting agency and worked in Zambia, before focusing on nutrition advocacy during the past 2 years.
From all this experience gained during the past 25 years, I am convinced that people who are poor do know how to eat well, but that they don’t have the means to eat well. I also genuinely believe that treatment should be firmly linked to prevention and it’s not a choice of one or the other. Working in nutrition advocacy is a challenge I enjoy, that has involved a large element of learning on the job.