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Meet our Queen Elizabeth Scholars: Nicole Anasis

Nicole Anasis (taking picture) says she is interested in combining environmental science and international development to help people affected by climate change.

Last year, a number of U of T Scarborough students went abroad to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and collaborate on meaningful initiatives. It was all part of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship program. As students consider what they’ll be doing this summer, we asked three of these Queen Elizabeth Scholars to tell us about their experiences.


This week, find out more about these students and their work at a special exhibition in Gallery 1265.

 

A summer in Ghana studying how a village can adapt to climate change opened up a whole new world of discovery for U of T Scarborough’s Nicole Anasis.

The third-year science student in the Environmental Chemistry Co-op program spent more than three months in Tamale, Ghana, applying environmental theory to a real-world setting while working with non-governmental organization RAINS.

Her role was to assess the effectiveness of a RAINS project – called CHANGE – that develops community adaptation action plans and land-use plans to establish sustainable agriculture practices and stimulate alternative livelihoods, among other things.

Anasis, 20, says the plans help villagers “progress” their communities by helping them adjust to climate change while developing their economic capacity.

For example, in an agricultural setting, crop yields are affected by two factors: the amount of rain, which is less reliable with climate change; and the availability of labour. To address the latter challenge, farmers were encouraged to give their wives a piece of land to farm.

“That increases equity and is a direct response to climate change,” says Anasis. “That’s one movement that has been implemented and it’s been taking hold over the last five years. So now a lot of woman are farming their own land through their husbands.”

Anasis’ job entailed meeting with people responsible for the various projects and with villagers to see how successful they were in implementing their community plans. In the field, she collected data on sustainable agriculture practices to be compared to a baseline established a few years ago.

While talking to farmers, she discovered they were adopting sustainable agriculture practices because they were told it was good to do so, but they didn’t necessarily know why. So, Anasis decided to create a manual to teach them about such topics as climate change, nutrients and recycling.

“When you explain the fundamentals, they are more likely to take up the practices, propagate the knowledge throughout the communities and have them become the norm, the new traditional farming system,” she says.

Anasis also found that RAINS wasn’t addressing sanitation in any of their initiatives, so she connected the NGO with a for-profit company that builds toilets that convert human waste to organic fertilizer.  With this partnership, RAINS can fundraise for the toilets and the private company can train communities how to build these sanitation facilities.

Anasis’ success in Ghana was no surprise to the professor who wrote her a reference letter for the scholarship.

“There is no question that Nicole was an individual who could go do this and make a lot out of it,” says James MacLellan, a lecturer in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences. “Part of it is that maturity of someone who is clearly open to new experiences, is open to new knowledge. When they go together, it’s absolutely brilliant.”

MacLellan says he is most impressed that Anasis’ responsibility for her work in Ghana didn’t end with her return to Canada. He says she has stayed connected to RAINS and is working to ensure that others can continue to work on the sanitation project she started.

Moreover, she has bringing her learnings about Ghana back to MacLellan and UTSC.

“It really completes that cycle,” he says. “For her to be able to inform me, I’m learning from my students in that sort of holistic way.”

Anasis’ experience has caused her to re-think her career plans. Currently a “purely natural science” student, she says she is now interested in combining environmental science and international development to help people who are suffering because of climate change.

Her one regret is that she couldn’t stay longer in Ghana.

“I think that had I stayed another three months, I could have seen the sanitation project completed, seen some toilets built before I left and been there for the training for natural resource management,” she says. “I kind of have some things I feel are unfinished on my part.”

 




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