Student - April 7, 2016

‘My mother sent a suitcase full of Sultana biscuits.’

Who? Kimberly Linde, Master’s student of Nutrition and Health
What? Thesis research on vitamin A deficiency in children
Where? Telemu, Nigeria

‘Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can best be solved with food that people already grow and eat. For the project where I did my thesis research, two crèches were set up, where we provided 250 children with breakfast and lunch six days a week, to see whether we could reduce their vitamin A deficiency with yellow cassava. Many Africans already eat white cassava.

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The idea was that I would come in the final phase of the project, but it was still in the initial phase and I mainly helped with setting everything up. I get enthusiastic very quickly and then I tend to take the lead, but hierarchy turned out to be very important there. As a student you are on the bottom rung of the ladder. Eventually I slowly started to work together with the project leader and the project manager. The typical Dutch schedules, plans and lists came into their own.

It was tough.  I was woken up at 6 in the morning by the cooks starting to cook for the children next door to my room. I started work at 7 and was done at 10 o’clock in the evening. I am a perfectionist and couldn’t easily let go of the project, partly because the whole team was living in one house, just around the corner from the crèches.

The local food was very disappointing. They eat rice or potatoes with a sauce made mainly of red peppers. I can’t cope with hot food very well. They tried to make it less hot but I still couldn’t eat it. Luckily, on the advice of my supervisor, I had taken along enough noodles for the first month. In the end my mother sent out a suitcase full of Sultana biscuits, which I counted regularly to reassure myself that I had enough to last till the end.

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One day I went to the market with a colleague. I waited in the car while he paid for some stuff. He had taken his key and left his telephone behind. He was away a long time and people got more and more inquisitive and gathered around the car. Because I was white, they all wanted to touch me through the open windows. In the end another colleague phoned to ask where we were. When she realized I was there alone she came for me as quickly as she could. Later she said I should never have been left alone at that market, for my own safety. Fortunately it all ended well.’