Niamh Schumacher was a sophomore with a Food Science major and a pre-professional concentration, but that didn’t stop her from applying to an internship in January 2019 with the Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture, that specifically requested applicants that were either Juniors or Seniors. Her love for food and travel gave her the courage to apply for an internship that would take her on a journey around the world. Because of the desire to expand her world and experience new things, she left for Rwanda just 3 weeks after the end of the spring 2019 semester to begin work as a nutritional intern with the Feed the Tworore Inko, Twunguke (or Let’s Raise Chickens, and Make a Profit in Kinyarwanda).
The project’s aim is to increase income and nutrition of the locals participating by teaching them to raise chickens and incorporate them into their diet. The farmers raise a flock of chickens and sell all but three back to the project. The farmers are encouraged to incorporate the 3 chickens they keep into their meals and often share with other members of their community. A lack of nutrition has caused growth stunting in approximately 35 – 40% of the children in that area and as Niamh puts it chickens are the “perfect protein source”. Although she is a vegetarian, Niamh says that while she can get her protein from things that are easily available for use such as tofu, quinoa, and yogurt, Rwandan staple foods such as beans and potatoes don’t offer the same nutritional value.
While there Niamh not only taught the farmers about raising and eating chicken, but she led focus groups after the training sessions. During the focus groups she heard directly from the farmers about their experiences and some of the farmers received a food diary to track their meals. One of the major findings was that there is a complete lack of knowledge about the nutritional vaule of eggs. The consumption of eggs is limited to “children and the rich white men” as was told to Niamh by many of the locals. The data that was gathered will be evaluated and used for future projects.
Niamh says that some of the biggest life lessons was never taking for granted the sanitation (handwashing practices and clean water) we have and the fact that she doesn’t have to worry where her next mean will come from. Although many from that area are extremely poor, they are always happy. One of her favorite experiences was watching people in the community sing and dance. Her time there wasn’t all work. She did some amazing things like explore nearby cities Kigali and Gisenyi, try new foods such as mandazi (something similar to doughnuts) and ikivuguto (fermented milk), and hiking Mount Bisoke.
When asked what she would tell students who were like herself and not completely certain what they wanted to do after graduation, Niamh says she would strongly encourage students to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. If you have a passion for something like food or travel find a way to use that to open doors to new things like studying abroad or looking for internships in a field you want to learn more about.