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AU students helping pregnant women and young children in Sierra Leone

A group of students from different areas of AU are working together to create a better future for pregnant women and young children in Sierra Leone. Danida has granted DKK 172,594 to support the project.

[Translate to English:] Monica Lauridsen Kujabi (th.) læser medicin på syvende semester, men har orlov og er netop taget til Sierra Leone for at arbejde frivilligt med at undervise lokalbefolkningen i sundhed og hygiejne de næste seks måneder. Det frivillige projekt står foreningen Masanga Outreach bag. Den drives primært af studerende fra AU. Caroline Madsen (tv.) er netop blevet færdig som læge og har deltaget aktivt i foreningens arbejde de seneste fem år. Foto: Lise Balsby

When Omnibus meets Monica Lauridsen Kujabi, a student of medicine, she’s already packing to leave for Sierra Leone. She has taken leave of absence from her degree programme, and for the next six months she’ll be trying to increase levels of health and hygiene among pregnant women and young children in a West African country where one in every eight women dies during childbirth. The country is one of the poorest in Africa, and is still suffering from a devastating civil war back in the 1990s.

“I can hardly believe I’m actually on my way. Helping to develop the project has been exciting and challenging, but actually going to Sierra Leone is an entirely different feeling. I’m looking forward to it.”

Different kinds of expertise

Kujabi has been a volunteer member of a student project called Masanga Outreach for two years. The group consists of 15-20 AU students from different academic areas who are trying to make a difference for the people of Masanga village in the Tonkolili district, in the middle of the Sierra Leone jungle.

The project was started by students of medicine at AU, who mostly worked with purely health-related issues at the clinic in the Masanga hospital. But during the past few years the focus of the project has shifted to include students from other areas like law, political science and information studies – all helping with project planning, fund raising and PR.

“It was pure chance that people from other areas joined the project when we were short of a few group members. But we soon realised that it was actually great to have different kinds of expertise – it has helped us to achieve much more,” explains Kujabi.

A holistic view

The student group has become more mixed, and the focus of the association has also changed. Instead of focusing purely on health, the group now adopts a more holistic approach to the project.

“We now have a longer-term focus. We’re focusing on education because we believe that in order to make a real difference we need to teach the local population certain things. We want to help them help themselves by teaching them how to look after pregnant women and children under five,” says Kujabi.

As a result, the students have entered into partnership with an association of nursing students in Sierra Leone. The Danish students share their knowledge with the local students, helping them to build up a student organisation and joining them in workshops with a view to spreading knowledge to the local people. And Kujabi is convinced that the inclusion of students with non-medical expertise is an advantage in this connection.

“As students of medicine we tend to focus purely on diagnosis and treatment, whereas students of political science have an organisational focus. And as far as the work done back home in Denmark is concerned, it’s much better for a student of information studies or journalism to do our PR than a student of medicine,” she says.

Getting the locals on board

Caroline Madsen has just completed her degree in medicine, and has been involved in the Masanga Outreach project for five years. She worked as a volunteer in Sierra Leone in 2010, and explains that the way the project works has changed over the years. In 2010 her job was to drive around finding malnourished children and get them and their mothers to hospital, where they could be given the right treatment.

“The locals do this kind of thing now. They manage the department for malnourished children and treat the children themselves. Our job is more organisational these days. For instance, we have helped the local students to form their own organisation. It was great to learn that they have now laid down rules of procedure and that there’s a board keeping an eye on things. That tells you something about how our project has developed.”

Monica Lauridsen Kujabi adds that:

“It’s no good just turning up and telling the locals what to do and what problems they need to solve. It’s pointless telling them that they need to do something about malaria if they don’t think that malaria is their biggest health problem at the moment. We need to get them on board. They’re the best ones to identify the problems, and our role is to teach them how to solve them.”

“We have a different educational background, even though we’re still students. Their nursing training lasts three years; and the healthcare staff we’re working with have completed a very basic and theoretical fast-track course in two years, because after the civil war they were forced to train lots of people in a short time to help get the country back on its feet. What we can contribute is practical experience and a systematic approach because we’ve been on placements and have received supervision,” explains Caroline Madsen.

Every six months the Masanga Outreach project stations a team of students in Sierra Leone consisting of one student of medicine and one student of social science, public health science or development studies. These students are supported by the rest of the group back home in Denmark.

A massive boost

The long-term focus on education harmonises perfectly with Danish development policy, and Danida has acknowledged the relevance of the work done by the students in Sierra Leone. The project has been given a pat on the back in the form of a DKK 172,594 grant from Danida’s civil society fund, with a view to strengthening the partnership with the Sierra Leone student association and helping to organise workshops.

Caroline Madsen is delighted with the grant.

“This is a massive boost for our project. And it’s great that we can now carry out all the things we’ve planned. It also shows that we’ve got the necessary organisation, network and cultural experience – all the way from the political level to the chief in the village.”

And when you’re doing up to 15 hours of volunteer work a week, this kind of pat on the back is hugely welcome.

“It shows we’re on the right track,” says Kujabi.

Even though Caroline Madsen is no longer a student, she has no plans to drop the project. In fact she’s postponing her period of internship and joining Kujabi and the other students stationed in Sierra Leone this autumn in order to work on the project.

“Being part of the project energises me. So no, I haven’t considered stopping at all.”

Masanga Outreach

The Masanga Outreach voluntary project was founded in 2008 by a group of students of medicine from Aarhus University. The aim was to spread knowledge about basic health and hygiene among the population of the Tonkolili district in Sierra Leone, which was devastated by civil war in the 1990s.

Masanga Outreach is a non-profit project, a separate operation under an organisation called Masanga DK. The students are volunteers, and now include students from a variety of main academic areas as well as a few graduates.

Masanga Outreach is looking for more volunteers – would you like to join in? For more information, please go to (in Danish) or

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There are loads of different student clubs and associations at AU, covering interests varying from angling, films and politics to drama, choirs and sport.

Read more (In Danish)