Brescia professor and students celebrate a new women-run business in Kenya that distributes healthy probiotic yoghurt

August 20, 2010

Brescia professor and students celebrate a new  women-run business in Kenya  that distributes healthy probiotic yoghurt

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Dr. Sharareh   Hekmat, associate professor in the Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences at   Brescia, is shown here with one of the women   running a probiotic yoghurt production and distribution site in   Tanzania.

London, ON – Dr. Sharareh Hekmat, associate professor in the Division of Food and  Nutritional Sciences at Brescia   University College  and one of the original members of the Western Heads East (WHE) steering committee,  is excited about the opening of the most recent African site where women are  empowered to produce and sell probiotic yoghurt.

The yogurt developed by Hekmat, in collaboration with scientists  at the University of Western Ontario (Western) and the Canadian Centre for  Probiotic Research at the Lawson Health Institute in London, contains micro-organisms  effective in treating and preventing urogenital infections in women and in  improving the nutritional status of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Kenya  site, which is now in full production, is the second started by the WHE team in  Africa to produce and distribute the probiotic  yoghurt. Hekmat’s recipe has been introduced to African women via the “yogurt  mamas” project, and she has trained more than 25 interns (from Brescia  and Western) who have helped to create a sustainable mini-dairy plant in Mwanza, Tanzania.

“The women in Tanzania feel empowered and have  taken ownership of this project. They are producing the yoghurt, distributing  it, and community members are either purchasing the yoghurt or receiving it  free of charge,” Hekmat said. One of the women living with HIV, who also  receives the yogurt each day, spoke about the health benefits she has realized  and how she feels healthier after taking the probiotic yogurt. Currently, a Brescia student is in Tanzania working on quality control  of the yogurt.

Hekmat expects the women involved in the Kenyan project will  enjoy a similar sense of empowerment. Last November, Hekmat met with Baraka  Women’s Group (BWG), which is staffing the new Kenyan kitchen. The group was  enthusiastic about finally getting the probiotic yogurt kitchen started after  two years. Hekmat is pleased to know that a product that was developed at  Brescia is being used to empower women’s groups and build capacity in  communities in Africa while helping to alleviate pain and suffering in those  communities.

Hekmat has been working on the development of probiotic  dairy products for more than 20 years. She continues to modify the probiotic  yogurt recipe at Brescia  to enhance its nutritional status and adjust its sensory characteristics to the  needs of various communities as the project is being expanded to other African  countries. “We are working on incorporating local ingredients in the yoghurt  that may have functional properties. Specifically, we are looking at using Moringa  – a herb in Tanzania.”

In the future, Hekmat and the team look forward to setting  up probiotic yoghurt production and distribution sites in other countries. “Our  hope is to expand the project to other African countries, like Zimbabwe and Rwanda,  and in India.  Funding and human resources are required to expand the project.”

Hekmat and the WHE team are also working with health and  academic officials in Rwanda  to expand the partnership, which may include student exchange programs and academic  credits for WHE interns staying in Rwanda to work on the probiotic yoghurt  project.

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Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is  affiliated with The University   of Western Ontario. The  1,100 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide  variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and  invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College  welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity.

For  more information, please contact:

Dr. Shari Hekmat Associate Professor  in the Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences                       Phone: 519.432.8353, ext. 28227                     E-mail: hekmat@uwo.ca