Forward Bound scholarship – reflection from our scholar, Virginia

Since 2015, we have been delighted, with the kind support of Fiona Deane with money left to her by a family legacy, to have offered the Forward Bound scholarship to MSc Health Promotion applicants from low or lower-middle income countries. This award is intended to support health and other professionals who are employed or who volunteer in roles where they will be able to influence and shape health promotion practice and policy on their return. Due to this generous donation, we have been able to offer tuition fees, accommodation, travel and a living subsistence each year to successful candidates. There have been six scholars so far, the first scholar, Virginia Mzunzu, graduated in 2016.

We asked Virginia to reflect on her experience, almost five years on.

“I graduated from the University of Brighton in 2016 with MSc Health Promotion.  My learning from this equipped me with specialist knowledge and technical skills gained through courses, seminars and conferences as part of my studies. This gave me the confidence and ability to think in new ways, which I am sure helped me get to where I am today, working as Nutrition and Gender Adviser for Self Help Africa Malawi. I feel that my unique experience studying abroad in the UK made me stand out when I applied and was interviewed for the job, I found myself talking about all the rich experiences I had gained from studying at Brighton. This gave the confidence to my employers that I was well able to handle the job.

PROFESSIONALLY

The skills and knowledge gained from the Masters in Health Promotion have helped me in my current role as Nutrition and Gender Adviser, where I am responsible for providing technical oversight towards the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Nutrition and Food security component of SHA’s country strategy. I also use the skills in advocacy, nutrition trainings and development of IEC materials for nutrition. My skills have also been in use as I have been featured in radio talk shows on health and nutrition related issues. I have also published articles in national newspapers and online blogs  including a more recent one on nutrition and COVID-19: https://times.mw/committing-to-a-healthier-lifestyle-amidst-covid-19/ I am also a member of the national  nutrition coordinating committee, where I contribute towards policy formulation as well as the design of national nutrition programmes.   

Virginia Mzunzu photo

Virginia Mzunzu at her fun run for Boys to Men

PERSONALLY

It is no doubt that choosing to study abroad allowed my personal development in a way that would have not been possible if I studied in Malawi.  To begin with, I have more awareness and appreciation about diversity which is a tremendous asset in my life.  I feel I am now better able to communicate my ideas effectively in different ways and to people with different levels of knowledge.  I now also have more confidence and high self-esteem which makes me easily interact with people of different calibres which has helped boost my social network.

Further to this I am recognised at national level as an inspiration for the youth where I have been invited to youth meetings to make speeches on academic and career motivation talks. Many youths in Malawi lack role models, especially females, who have gone far in both academics and career.

Something I also gained from the experience in Brighton is a philanthropic mentality. It is because of some well-wishers that I was able to pursue my academic goals in Brighton. Henceforth back in Malawi, I took it upon myself to help with financial support to students in need. I have so far begun an initiative called “Boys to Men” which aims at providing a bursary scheme (this includes food, accommodation, tuition and pocket money) to bright boys from poor families, as well as mentoring them as they undergo secondary education.

ACHIEVEMENTS AND WHAT’S NEXT

As I grow in my career, I would really like to work at international level, especially with the UN. This would give me more leverage in my career advancement in today’s global economy where international experience is highly valued. In addition to the above, I would also like to build on my experience by pursuing doctoral studies in the area of Health Promotion and Behavioural Science. The masters degree course made me more passionate about teaching, encouraging and challenging others to become more aware of their nutrition and health lifestyle.  Hence, with a doctorate degree I would like be a pioneer in the prevention of non-communicable disease in Malawi.  Malawi is a low-income country undergoing a nutrition transition, such that whilst under nutrition and communicable diseases still predominate, the prevalence of obesity and diet related NCDs is increasing. I believe a PHD can provide me with comprehensive knowledge and rigorous methodological skills to translate research into policy and practice.

AND FINALLY…

I am forever grateful to the Forward Bound scholarship that made it possible to study at the University of Brighton which was a huge stepping stone for attaining my academic, career and personal goals – the experiences and the things I learned at Brighton will stay with me for the rest of my life”.

For more information on Boys to Men, please visit https://www.facebook.com/Yathu_-BoystoMen-Initiative-107059777581443/

 

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