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Mason researcher gives back to Kenyan community

September 6, 2019   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Constance Gewa held community feedback meetings in Kenya where she conducted a study on food security in 2016. Photo provided.

Researchers often travel far and wide to collect data. Typically, they return home to analyze the data, and may never return to the community from which they collected the information. For one College of Health and Human Services researcher, returning to share results is part of the process.​

Constance Gewa, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, went to Kenya this summer to conduct research on childhood obesity, but she also took back results from a previous study on food security among women and children that she previously conducted in 2016-17. She said the community was thrilled to see her return with results. ​

"The government officials, they couldn't believe it,” said Gewa. “They said ‘you are the first group to ever come back to share results.’"​

Gewa shared her findings with the community members and leaders from the two localities she surveyed and later with the county government officials. Mason alumna Kit Goldfarb, MPA ’11, accompanied Gewa on this trip and was instrumental in conducting community outreach and facilitating the community feedback meetings. ​

"[The community] really started to open up,” said Goldfarb, who is a global health and development consultant. “Both times, the person who was doing the interpreting for me said that it was because Constance was so good at connecting with people and she put them at ease."​​

The community offered feedback on the results of the study. Photo provided.

Gewa said that, by the end of the meetings, the communities felt energized to do something and started to form action committees. She plans to check back in with them for updates on the communities’ progress. ​

"I'm happy to say that these results mean something to them," said Gewa, who feels that her research shouldn't just answer her abstract research questions, but should be of value to the community. ​

In addition to the research on food insecurity, Gewa will continue working in Kenya on a childhood obesity study. ​

"Kenya is undergoing a nutrition transition," said Gewa. "Right now, more than 45% of adult women residing in urban areas in Kenya are overweight or obese.” ​

The prevalence is lower in rural areas at 26%, she added. Gewa said these numbers are concerning for a country that is considered a low-income nation and still struggles with infectious disease and undernutrition.​

Gewa collaborates with researchers at Maseno University, the University of Nairobi, local communities, youth leaders, women’s groups, schools, and officials from the country’s Ministries of Education, Health and Agriculture. She often works with student research assistants from the Kenyan universities, helping to expose them to such concepts as research methodology and human research ethics. ​

“They learn something new,” said Gewa, “and develop critical skills that they may not have had the opportunity to build.”