Alumna trumpets women’s health and rights

Paul Mayne // Western News

Western alumna Stefania Wisofschi, BSc ’16, MMASc ’17 (Global Health Systems) heads to Nairobi this week for an eight-month fellowship through the Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s International Youth Fellowship Program. She will work at the Centre for Excellence in Women and Child Health, supporting their work in developing policies, practices and programs associated with women’s health and rights.

Stefania Wisofschi, BSc ’16, MMASc ’17 (Global Health Systems), remembers that pivotal experience that illuminated her future career path.

“As a science kid, it is always hard to see anything beyond a lab,” she said, crediting Phaedra Henley, BMSc’07, MES’09, PhD’14, in her fourth-year Ecosystem Health class for sparking her interest in global human health. “That came at a good time for me. After that I was kind of hooked and chose to do my masters.

“I knew this was something I wanted to continue exploring. When we were in Uganda for four months, being there, in the field and on the ground, that was probably my ‘a-ha’ moment where I knew I wanted to do this. I didn’t know how, moving on from there, but seeing the dedication of the practitioners was really inspiring and definitely re-enforced everything I knew about wanting to be part of this work.”

Wisofschi has been selected for the Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s International Youth Fellowship Program, an eight-month professional development program for recent university graduates and young professionals under the age of 30 seeking hands-on experience in international development.

The 24-year-old will complete her placement at the Aga Khan University Centre for Excellence in Women and Child Health (CoEWCH), supporting their work in developing policies, practices and programs associated with women’s health and rights.

In Uganda, she assisted in community HIV/STD prevention and education services, co-managed the creation of a micro-enterprise that provided probiotic yogurt to the community and generated income opportunities for women. In London, she collaborated with the London Intercommunity Health Centre to propose a scalable solution to combat the stigma and social isolation that often accompanies mental illness and addiction.

She hopes these experiences will drive her forward as she seeks to strengthen her skills when she arrives in Nairobi this week.

“It’s about making the most of this opportunity. I’m going into this open-minded, but also with certain expectations of knowing what I’d like to get out of it as well,” said Wisofschi, who will be working with Marleen Temmerman, East Africa Director of the CoEWCH and the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Aga Khan University Hospital.

“I’d love to collaborate with her and see what opportunities I can be afforded. I know they’re trying to promote innovation technology within the youth population and that’s super exciting,” said Wisofschi, who was offered the fellowship even before her parents knew she had applied.

“I went into this to find out what I can do, where I fit in – is it just an interest or can I make a career out of it?” she said, adding she’s going to be working with so many great people, there may be opportunities she could move into after fellowship. “I’m open to that, but don’t tell my mom and dad yet.”

Wisofschi added she is one who “leads with passion and purpose,” and reminds herself to be open to new opportunities. As a colleague told her, her role will also be to hold up a microphone for people who have the voices and great ideas to facilitate change.

“The resilience of the communities, and their knowledge, is a lot more relevant than mine coming in is,” she said. “I’m hoping to leave a few bread crumbs that can make things a little easier for others.”