Q&A with Pauline Akabwai, MAHA 2017

Nationality: Kenyan

What were you doing before you came to Tufts? Before I came to Tufts I was managing nutrition programs with the International Rescue Committee in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. I also worked as a field monitor with Oxfam on the Hunger Safety Net program and with the Ministry of Health in Kenya.

What brought you to Tufts? My father told me about the MAHA program. I had been working for several years with marginalized communities in Kenya, but I recognized that I needed to expand my knowledge on nutrition, food policy, and development to further my career. The MAHA program was the perfect place to do this.

What did you gain from the MAHA program? I learned how to use humanitarian research to influence humanitarian policy. I was born and raised in Turkana County, which is a region of Kenya with high rates of illiteracy, poverty, and malnutrition. The program helped me connect my experiences from home to other regions in Africa. I used to use Kakuma camp as my point of reference for nutrition programs, but now I see the bigger picture. I realize that it is not enough to do this work in Kenya, it’s time to make it international. I’m thrilled that I’ll be transitioning to a new position in Ethiopia soon. The MAHA program also gave me more confidence to be really flexible while working on programs with other partners.

How is the program different from what you expected? The MAHA program made me re-think health and nutrition programs in my community. I realized that effective response to humanitarian issues requires collaboration between many entities and sectors. Before the program I focused on nutrition and health, but now I regularly consider other sectors, such as WASH and logistics

What should potential MAHA students know before they enroll? The first thing they should be ready for is that it’s an intensive course. MAHAs are always in the library. They have to be prepared to sacrifice time away from work and to learn a lot of new information. However, there are also lots of fun activities on and off of Tufts campus. My favorite events were the cultural nights, especially Africana night. These activities gave us a chance to get out of the library and learn in a different way.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you? Most girls in my community don’t attend school because of cultural and economic reasons. I am privileged to have supportive parents who pushed me to go to Tufts. My parents are proud because I have an M.A. My degree gives me credibility and a platform to address issues in my community, in Kenya, and around the world. My family was also very surprised that I survived the Boston winter.

What is your educational background? I have a bachelor of science in food nutrition, and dietetics from the University of Nairobi. Prior to that I got a diploma in crop science and protection also from the University of Nairobi.

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