Western Heads East

Western Heads East Program

Western Heads East is a collaboration between Western staff, students, faculty and African partners using probiotic foods to contribute to health and sustainable development.

Largely through probiotic yogurt social enterprises, the program is established in highly underserviced areas of Sub-Saharan Africa to address HIV/AIDS, health, empowerment of women, and economic development.

The first site was initiated in Mwanza, Tanzania where more than 10 community kitchens now exist. Western Heads East (WHE) continues to work with local partners to establish probiotic yogurt kitchens in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Malawi. Since the project began, more than 90 student interns and African partners have conducted research, examined health benefits, quality control, etc., to continue improving the social enterprises.

The probiotic yogurt is based on the research of Dr. Gregor Reid, Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Surgery, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University.Probiotics are live microorganisms otherwise known as "good bacteria" that deliver health benefits to their host. Dr. Reid collaborated with Dr. Sharareh Hekmat of Western's Brescia University College and developed a probiotic yogurt strain to address the HIV/AIDS symptoms in Africa by:

Our initial mission began with the training of a local group of 12 women who called themselves ‘Tukwamunane’ in the production of the yogurt and setting up a kitchen. The ‘Tukwamuane’ Women's Group in Mwanza, Tanzania has become licensed as a Non-Governmental Organization and plays a vital role in the community by providing nutritional guidance, informal counseling and assistance with school lunch programs while producing probiotic yogurt. The group has been joined by nine other community kitchens in Mwanza and three in Kenya. Some kitchens provide the probiotic yogurt free of charge to people living with AIDS and are seeking subsidy to pay for the yogurt for those who cannot afford to buy it.

The community kitchens are owned and operated by the local women and youth groups. The project’s African teams are comprised of local women’s groups (‘Yogurt Mamas’), research institutes, hospitals, universities and NGOs. The yogurt kitchens also act as community hubs for lay counselling, centres for disease awareness and as hubs for social support and entrepreneurship. In essence, this grassroots program has empowered women to contribute to the health of their communities, draw an income for their families, stimulate significant economic development, and has become a source of prosperity for their communities. African and Canadian partners collaborate on program and research goals.

The project’s Canadian team collaborates with African partners on research, knowledge sharing, fundraising, assisting communities with the initial set up of yogurt kitchens, best practices for probiotic yogurt production, quality control procedures and sustainable business education. The WHE internship program provides an exciting and challenging opportunity for students at Western to work with African partners on program goals and research. Western Heads East interns have been from all faculties at Western including health science, science, social sciences, food and nutrition, nursing, medicine, business, education, among others. While contributing to local goals, the internship provides practical hands-on experience and a challenging opportunity for students and faculty to grow.

The goal of the internship program has also been for students and faculty to return and promote education about the program, health and social justice issues in Africa, their personal learning and development, and to help raise awareness and funds for the specific program needs in Africa. Our interns have developed relationships with communities in East Africa leading to:

The project holds promise and considerable benefits for all those involved, such as:

The Twinning Project

The WHE program has also facilitated a twinning project between schools in London, Ontario and Mwanza, Tanzania. The Tecumseh School in London, Ontario and the Buswelu Elementary School in Mwanza, Tanzania have been twinned since 2005 to learn about one another’s cultures and the Tecumseh Public School has raised funds for to the building of desks and other needed supplies.

In 2008, Clarke Road Secondary School in London also twinned with the Mtoni Secondary School in Mwanza. Together students from both schools worked with Western students to organize a health promotions event which took place in Mwanza, and have shared experiences. Clarke Road raised funds for Mtoni building projects and school equipment. Mtoni is located right by the yogurt kitchen. The yogurt mamas have established a “Canada Cantina” at the school staff are frequent visitors to the kitchen for some yogurt!