June 21, 2022
Nutrition doctoral candidate Ruthfirst Ayande has been named a recipient of a Margaret McNamara Education Grant. She joins a cohort of 10 women selected from a competitive pool of over 400 applicants, to receive grants in the 2022 funding cycle.
Margaret McNamara Education Grants is a nonprofit, public charity founded in 1981 that awards education grants to exceptional women from developing countries who are at least 25 years old and enrolled at universities in the United States, Canada, and select universities in South Africa and Latin America. The organization draws its inspiration from Margaret McNamara and her vision of education and gender equality. The U.S. Medal of Honor recipient used her influence as wife of Robert McNamara, the World Bank's fifth president, to advocate for the recognition and inclusion of these critical elements of development programs.
Ayande will receive a $15,000 grant to support the completion of her doctoral degree. Her research focuses on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on maternal and child health, and exploring strategies to deliver remote nutrition education interventions to improve infant and young child feeding practices in her native Ghana.
“I was elated to receive the grant, especially because the pandemic forced me to change my original dissertation topic which would have been fully funded,” says Ayande. “With that on hold, I had to mobilize resources both internally and externally in order for me to continue to work with Ghanaian women, a population I deeply care about because of my national identity. For context, there are very limited funding opportunities available to researchers working in sub-Sharan Africa, so a grant like this is a reminder of the generosity of agencies like the MMEG who make the conscious effort to bridge this gap.”
Ayande practices an interdisciplinary approach to the field of nutrition. She is also completing a certificate in Feminist Studies with the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass to better understand women’s unique challenges in accessing healthcare, including reproductive services. She has also led seminars on food and identity, exploring the foodways and specific dietary needs of various populations to inform sustainable feeding practices.
In the future, Ayande hopes to implement nutrition training interventions, collaborating with women in rural settings to utilize their native foods to achieve maximal nutritional benefit. Her long-term goals are to create community kitchens and learning centers in low-income communities to offer nutrition and health services.
“This grant is particularly significant for both my research and my professional development because the award also inducts me into a network of outstanding women from around the world who are dedicated to working with and for women and children in underserved communities,” says Ayande. “The thought that I have been invited to join such an amazing community of women is quite encouraging; I have no excuse to give up on my passion to reimagine better health care delivery systems for women in sub-Saharan Africa.”