BUILDING A MOVEMENT…THE STORY OF NATIVSOL AND WANDA
Tambra Raye Stevenson is a nutritionist and food activist for the African diaspora community in the US and for women and girls in Africa. She is the founder of the grass-root organization NativSol and lately also WANDA (Women Advancing Nutrition Dietetics and Agriculture). At Uppsala Health Summit 2016, Tambra will be moderating the workshop on food environments and migration and how it impacts childhood obesity.
About one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. What can your NGO´s NativSol and WANDA do to help tackling childhood obesity in the US and beyond?
In addressing childhood obesity, NativSol Kitchen has focused on providing culturally appropriate nutrition education especially to people of African descent through community-based programming, partnership development and media outreach. Furthermore due to the uptick in fast food chains and processed foods in Africa, NativSol providing lectures on impact of Western foods and the importance of preserving African foodways in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
I saw the need to create Women Advancing Nutrition Dietetics and Agriculture (WANDA) to build workforce capacity and entrepreneurship in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture. Ultimately to tackle the issue, I believe the future generations must be equipped with the skills, resources and inspiration to become the ‘meal healers’ and ‘fast food fighters’ in their community. That also means creating jobs, promoting entrepreneurship to show the economic viability in the sectors.
What motivated you to launch NativSol and WANDA?
I am on a mission to reclaim the health and spirit of the African heritage diet--'original soul food' with NativSol Kitchen. The Western or Standard American Diet has failed the African diaspora community resulting in diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and premature death which is now robbing our youth.
Since taking the African Ancestry DNA test in 2010, I began my journey to wellness by tracing and reconnecting to my own African heritage through learning African food ways, learning my family history and travelling to Africa. I believe that learning the various food ways and lifestyle of ethnic groups can hold the key to addressing non-communicable diseases and obesity.
I founded NativSol which recognizes that the African diaspora community like its food is not monolithic. NativSol provides culturally-appropriate culinary nutrition education customized to the community for and by people of the African diaspora.
In 2016, I created (WANDA) - recognizing the lack of skills-based training, workforce readiness, and service leadership opportunities for women and girls of African descent in agriculture and nutrition. WANDA is a pipeline and a platform to empower women and girls in Africa and the Diaspora to get inolved in the field of nutrition and agriculture and improve the wellbeing of their communities.
For instance, America has a high supply of diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes but a low supply of appropriately trained dietitians and nutritionists in communities of color. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, African Americans make up 2.6% (3,600) of Registered Dietitians-Nutritionists of its membership.
There is a lack of role models, mentorship, and direct outreach of women in the food security sector who reflect the population to provide culturally tailored programming and messages. Grocery stores and farmers markets are part of the solution, but WANDA women are key to share, reach and teach more girls in the communities.
Wanda has a multimedia platform including a cartoon character which serves as a role model for girls. With these "little WANDA´s”, we are planting the seed for the "soul sisterhood of the soil" to take root and bear fruit for the community to thrive.
Ultimately, together a new generation of ‘food sheroes’ will improve the wellbeing of our communities.
We are launching the “Where’s WANDA?” book series at the U.S. Library of Congress this month as part of African Heritage Month and Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This book series matters because in 2015 only 10% of children’s books released had a black person as the main character. That’s why Little WANDA is so important in sparking the imagination of young girls to use food as a healing power in their families and communities.
How did you get connected to Uppsala Health Summit?
I met workshop organizer Dr Linley Chiwona Karltun of the Swedish University of Agriculture through the African Nutrition Society. We are both part of the African diaspora and we realized that shared a passion for culturally acceptable food cultures and the effect of the food environment on the health of people of color. Dr Karltun became a board member of WANDA.
We look forward to having you here Tambra!