Most Significant Change Story – My journey to becoming a change agent

Image: Lukonde, Mwelwa became aware of how significant the problem of malnutrition was, particularly undernutrition in Zambia.

Alumna Lukonde, Mwelwa (Master of Public Health – Nutrition)

This is a story of my journey to becoming a change agent. I am currently employed as a lecturer at one of the universities in the country, teaching nutrition subjects to undergraduate students enrolled in a BSc degree in human nutrition.

Before receiving the award, I had always wanted to work in an area that would allow me to effect positive change in the lives of the people around me. In 2011, I was retained by the university to train as a lecturer. During this time, I worked on several nutrition projects with my supervisor. I became aware of how significant the problem of malnutrition was, particularly undernutrition in my country. I then developed an interest in human nutrition. The first thing to do was building the capacity for lecturers to train nutritionists in Zambia. For a long-time nutritionists, in Zambia, were only being trained up to diploma level and they could not further their education beyond the diploma level because there was no institution in the country to offer advanced training beyond this level. Nutritionists who wanted to further their education ended up advancing their knowledge in other fields like development studies, social work and other non-health related fields, thus creating a problem whereby nutritionists were not holding decision-making positions in government, and nutrition issues were not being handled with the urgency they deserved. As a result, undernutrition levels in Zambia kept escalating and remained high for a very long time.

I saw the need to build capacity for training human nutrition graduates to help address undernutrition in Zambia as an opportunity to make a difference.  By then the degree program was in its infancy and the university was relying on visiting lecturers from the United Kingdom (UK) to teach on the program. I wanted to be part of this change and at this point I was compelled to join the upcoming nutrition department, the first to offer degree programs in human nutrition in Zambia. However, the criteria for me to work as a lecturer was dependent upon my successful completion of a master’s degree and from then on a search ensued for a scholarship. After several unsuccessful applications to different universities, I got awarded a prestigious Australia Awards Africa scholarship to pursue a Master of Public Health (Nutrition). This was the beginning of my journey to becoming the change agent I had hoped to be.

The process started at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. There was an Introductory Academic Program (IAP) organised by AAA before commencing the master’s degree program which helped to prepare me adequately, both academically and socially. There were free workshops on various topics, both academic and non-academic, and I made sure I attended these. As a result, my self-confidence increased (I am naturally a shy person) and I was prepared for the academic challenges that lay ahead.

The immediate changes were that my communication and interpersonal skills were improved, and I got my master’s degree. Consequently, I was appointed as a lecturer at the highest institution of learning. I am one of the four key staff members teaching nutrition subjects in the department of food science and nutrition.  With the knowledge and skills acquired, I am now able to contribute to the nutrition program by teaching and supervising undergraduate research projects.

The most significant change was my appointment as a lecturer, which puts me in a better position to effect the change I wanted to effect because I can pass on the knowledge and skills I acquired to more people (students) at once. Besides, being a lecturer has opened many avenues for me, as lecturers are mandated to offer solutions through research and public service. The Award does not only benefit me personally, but the graduate students from the degree program I contribute to can work in decision-making positions in government ministries and non-government organisations, contributing to the greater good, and that is to address nutrition and health problems in Zambia.

The change is significant to me for several reasons, the first one being that if I had not received the award I would not have had a master’s degree and I would not have been appointed as a lecturer.  The award helped me to be more confident in myself, and to advance my career. As a result of my training, the department of food science and nutrition has benefitted from the award by having an additional person (me) to teach on the program. Since I joined the university, two cohorts of students have graduated and are working in influential positions, advocating for better health and nutrition outcomes for all Zambians. I am proud to have been part of this process and for this, I remain grateful to the program.

This story forms part of the 2017 Outcomes Study. Alumni were selected to share their Most Significant Change as a result of the Australia Awards program.

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