The University of Western Ontario is expanding one of its community-driven programs that provides disease-fighting probiotic yogurt to people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The expansion to the Western Heads East program is being done through a more than $1 million donation from a professor at the school, Marianne Larsen, who is also chair of the project.
Western Heads East began in 2003 by a group of Western students, faculty and staff. It is based on the goal of teaching and empowering East African mothers —called “Yogurt Mamas” — to produce potentially life-saving probiotic yogurt.
“I have been completely inspired by Western Heads East,” says Larsen. “It’s incredible what the Yogurt Mamas have accomplished in their kitchens and the tremendous impact the production of yogurt has had on their lives, and the lives of their families and people, young and old, living with HIV/AIDS.”
Larsen established the Johansen Larsen Foundation after receiving an inheritance from a family friend in 2007.
The money is going towards an immediate upgrade to four existing yogurt kitchens in Tanzania and 16 new kitchens throughout East Africa. This translates into increasing capacity to feed 1,100 people each day living with HIV/AIDS over the next 10 years.
Working with a probiotic bacterial strain donated by Lawson Research scientist and Western professor Dr. Gregor Reid and Chr. Hansen (Denmark) in a yogurt formulated by Dr. Sharareh Hekmat from Brescia University College, the Western Heads East kitchens’ product helps alleviate infections related to HIV/AIDS, and provides nourishment to many adults and children.
“I am still overwhelmed by the generosity of Larsen and by the thought of the many lives that will be brilliantly affected by this kindness,” says Bob Gough, Western Heads East director. “The impact of the donation will be truly phenomenal. It will build significant health and nutrition awareness in the community and bring sustainable economic development to the area.”