Sonya Lee ’22

Nyanam Widows Rising, Kenya

Over the past several weeks, I have been working as a research intern for Nyanam Widows Rising, founded by Jackline Odhiambo ’14. When I first encountered the internship listing, I was excited to see that Nyanam was dedicated to providing training and resources for widows so that they can lead business, legal, or community endeavors. Widows are invited to form support groups to share their experiences, and these meetings allow them to identify areas where resources or projects would be the most helpful. For example, a group of widows formed a table banking project so that they could raise funds when necessary for their children’s tuition, business enterprises, etc. They expressed that having more capital for the table banking funds, as well as personal funds, would greatly aid in their endeavors. From these requests, Nyanam purchased a goat for each woman that could lead to savings over time (through birthing more goats) or could be sold quickly to raise immediate funds (for school fees or similar events). Sonya Lee '22 at a desk with laptopObviously, the system that works for a close-knit NGO like Nyanam is fitted to a very different context than those of governmental or international organizations, but by centering the experience of widows as the source of direction for further trainings/interventions avoided falling into the pitfall of rendering widows as passive agents or “vulnerable groups” with inefficiently identified needs.

I researched health needs and interventions for widows in sub-Saharan Africa to write a systematic qualitative review regarding the forms of health supports and health interventions available to these women. This review attempts to address the abundance of papers identifying widowhood as a risk factor for disease or violence and the gap in existing literature regarding how they interact with health systems. While I am still in the process of finalizing the manuscript, the final paper will characterize health interventions in terms of what health needs they address, who provides them, whether they are evaluated, how widows interact with them, and what impact they have been recorded to have.

This internship was a continuation and an extension of my interest in studying public health. Within the public health concentration, I have decided to focus on ethics and health organizations, and this internship allowed me to see firsthand how a tight-knit, ground-up organization operates. Nyanam is especially invested in seeking meaningful participation from widows in their operations and acknowledging the resilience and abilities of widows, which sparked my interest in learning more about these concepts in future courses. I hope to learn more about sustainable, community-based, and empowerment-focused interventions both through the rest of my internship and later in my academic career.

I would like to thank Mr. Chapman and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration without whom this internship would not have been possible. This internship has been an invaluable opportunity to apply my interest in public health and non-profit work to a project, and I am grateful for your support in making this happen.