ANH2018 blog: Perspective of a student volunteer
Nornoo K.A. Julius, MPhil Agricultural Economics student
University of Ghana
It was blistering, sunny and humid in Accra and I was preparing to write a paper on Environmental Economics the following day. I reached my department and met Anima, my Professor’s Research Assistant. After exchanging pleasantries, she prompted me about an upcoming conference and asked if I was going to be available. As an enthusiast of trying new things, I jumped on the opportunity. So I signed up as a volunteer and proceeded to get my papers written. I could not wait to for the Agriculture Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy Week to happen. It was an opportunity to network with seasoned researchers and innovators around the globe. That was how my week-long journey into exploratory research and understanding of the workings of ANH Academy started.
The program for the conference entailed two days of Learning Lab sessions followed by three days of the Scientific Conference on Agriculture, Nutrition and Health research. Poster presentations were accompanying the three-day conference.
On the 25th of June, my friends Ade, Dzifa and I were the first to get to the conference venue. Clad is semi-official attires, we were duty-bound and ready to learn at every instance. Our first day started with registration of the researchers; it was hectic and exciting especially at the consent table where researchers and speakers alike must be able to give the green light for the ANH Academy to use their quotes or images on social media. Some walked in while communicating in French and others spoke Spanish until they reached my table to register in English. It was during that moment that I had a déjà vu on the relevance of being bilingual (if not multilingual). I have been making efforts to learn Dutch and I could use my skills at that moment.
I was helping out with event logistics, but I also got a chance to take part in conference sessions. In one of them, light was shed on various methods of collecting data from respondents. I recall the pertinence of seeking consent for the use of personal information before making it available as part of a research presentation. For instance, when I go to the field to interview my respondents and in the process I take pictures of them, I should be able to tell them that their pictures are going to be used for presentations or I should be able to make it clear to them that their pictures will be published for the world to see. If they agree, then I can go ahead. Failure to get their consent means that some of the essential part of my story cannot be communicated to my audience.
I was lucky to sit in some of the Learning Labs and I must say that my outlook on economically assessing the cost of diets or running research on food safety and security has been updated. I was a little confused about what my research paper was going to be about, especially when I had so many interests. However, my coming to the conference cleared away many doubts in relation to food security, a field I find so interesting to commit to. Also my ‘mic running’ work in the Learning Lab on communications informed my use and expectations of language as a blogger. One way I can put a message across to the world will definitely be through speech and running the mic opened me up to the importance of speaking up when discussions do not go in my way.
The conference provided me with valuable experience and I made new friends especially amongst the organizers of the ANH Academy Week (Joe, Anna, Janet, Abel, Sofia, Tigist, Kallista, HyunJu and others). It was also an avenue to interact with my fellow volunteers and the research assistants. Our activities in the Labs and other sessions were basically coordinated through our Whatsapp group. This was a true revelation of what technology could do in the hands of great minds.
After interacting with some of my fellow volunteers, I gathered I was not alone on this learning journey. Martha, for instance, enjoyed the session on women’s empowerment. She recalled that according to one of the resource persons, “the more assets women have, the more they feel empowered”.
My profound memories of the three-day conference sessions were the 1-minute presentations. These sessions had researchers presenting their work in just 60 seconds. I would have found the time limit a huge constraint, but what I witnessed during those moments was marvelous and motivating at the same time. Another observation in those sessions was the creativity of female researchers - so awesome! For instance, one of the presenters decided to talk about her research findings straightaway, before introducing her research and the research methods she applied. Usually everyone does it the other way round.
On the last day of the conference, I took away a vital quote from the keynote speaker, Bassirou Bonfoh, Director of the Swiss Center for Scientific Research, Ivory Coast, who reaffirmed the need to be relentless in the pursuit of finding solutions for Africa’s problems.
Saying goodbye was hard. It was tough leaving the team after an exciting week. I knew I was going to miss my new friends so I decided to return to my research right after the program. I will keep in touch with those I can, and I’m looking forward to #ANH2019.
Photos: Student volunteers and the ANH Academy team before and after the conference. Credits: Nornoo K.A. Julius (top); ANH Academy (bottom).
Powerpoint presentations from the ANH Academy Week 2018 are now available.