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From volunteer to Nutrition Project Manager in South Africa: Fahima Adam shares her successes, challenges, and visions for the future of the Nutrition Project

Children benefit from the work of Nutrition Project Manager, Fahima Adam

South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and a huge portion of the population lives below the bread line. Many people don’t have regular access to medical facilities. Therefore, it is important to help prevent diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure by managing health and promoting healthy living. This is where our Nutrition Project in Cape Town comes in.

Under the guidance of Project Manager Fahima Adam, the project has achieved important successes, which have been highlighted in our annual Global Impact Report. For example, in 2017, Fahima and her volunteers were able to monitor the growth of 1,200 children from local communities and advise parents, teachers, and caregivers about the kinds of foods the children should be eating based on their results. This advice reaped rewards for 350 students of Floreat Primary School. Over a 7 to 8-month period, there was a decrease in stunting and underweight children.

With such important successes achieved on this project over the last year, we caught up with Fahima, to hear more about how volunteers help her, how she copes with challenges, and her plans for the future of the project.

What is the focus of the Nutrition Project in South Africa?

“In the disadvantaged communities where we work in Cape Town, there’s a lot of misinformation about nutrition going around and it’s important to combat this. For example, many people think eating healthily is expensive and so they think they won’t be able to afford regular nutritious meals. The volunteers and I play an important role in showing that healthy living is beneficial and doesn’t have to be expensive.”

When did you realise the importance of nutrition?

Healthy food preparation is an important part of the volunteer Nutrition Project in South Africa

“I did my Bachelor of Science in Human Life Sciences and my Honours in Physiology in Cape Town. My honours project was on starving breast cancer cells of different proteins and seeing if it affects the growth of the cancer cells, which it did. That piqued my interest in how what we eat affects everything in our bodies on a cellular level. Dietetics is a practical application of that science.”

Tell me about your journey to becoming the Nutrition Project Manager

“I had just left my old job and volunteering has always been on my bucket list. The period between finishing my old job and finding a new one seemed like the perfect opportunity to volunteer. So I signed up for a month on the Nutrition Project through Projects Abroad.

In my second week on the project, the manager at the time told me her position was open for interviews. She asked if I would like to apply, because I was the only qualified South African dietician that had ever volunteered on the project.

I put in my application and on my second to last week on the project, I went for my interview. In my last week I got the job and I started the week after I’d finished volunteering!”

What kinds of tasks do you and volunteers do in the communities where you work?

“Volunteers provide nutrition education classes across different age groups in the different townships where we work. This education gives the people we work with the tools they need to make better food choices with the resources they have. This ultimately helps them lead healthier lifestyles.

“Volunteers also help with growth monitoring at early childhood development centers and elementary schools. They cook meals for children in our Surfing Project groups and they help maintain vegetable gardens that are used to provide healthy meals to vulnerable children.”

What’s the most important role volunteers play on this project?

Education is an important part of the Nutrition Project in South Africa

“The most important way volunteers help is by providing extra hands. When we do growth monitoring, we take the heights and weights of, on average, 30-100 children per session. If it was only me taking these measures, I wouldn’t be able to monitor nearly as many children as that.

“With all of this data, there are also lots of reports to compile, talks and presentations to give, posters and educational materials to be developed, and so on. Volunteers also help a lot with that kind of work. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do all of it on my own.”

What is one of your favourite things about your role? 

“One of my favourite things is the independence I have with managing the project. My scope is never limited so I can run with it and make the project into something that really addresses the community’s needs. I have a lot of freedom in how it’s run and what we accomplish, which means that, with the support of my volunteers, the project can accomplish great things.”

What challenges do you face?

“I think the biggest challenge is people not showing up for sessions or people postponing their sessions with me. In this position, I have to be very flexible and adaptable to plan changes that crop up last minute. I also have to come up with different activities for when plans get cancelled. Luckily, this is a skill I really mastered in my previous job working in a government hospital, where things are often unpredictable.”

What is your vision for the future of the Nutrition Project? 

Local staff winners of a cooking competition during the Nutrition Project in South Africa

“Solid partnerships would help make this an even more impactful project. I’m looking into partnering with local government and groups within the communities who are already actively involved in working on nutrition initiatives. My ultimate goal is for us to get more involved in working in clinics and running support groups, all with backing from government. On top of this, I want to continue all the amazing work we’re currently doing, like the 10-week nutrition courses I run with the help of volunteers.

“I have an ambitious vision for the future of the project and I’m excited for it to keep growing! As it grows, the most rewarding part will be that we can continue to have an even greater impact on people’s lives.”

About Fahima

Fahima was born in Cape Town but has lived in the South African cities of Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. She studied her Bachelor of Science at Stellenbosch University and went on to study two Honours degrees. She completed her Honours in Physiology at Stellenbosch University and her Honours in Human Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Cape Town. A talent for medicine seems to run in the family, with her father working as a doctor and two of her sisters working in a midwifery clinic. Before joining the Projects Abroad team, Fahima worked as a clinical dietician in a tertiary hospital.

Find out how you can become a part of this inspiring work by reading more about our Nutrition Project in Cape Town. You can also find out more about the different projects we offer in South Africa.

From volunteer to Nutrition Project Manager in South Africa: Fahima Adam shares her successes, challenges, and visions for the future of the Nutrition Project

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