By Violet Barasa
I Googled IDS. It was a sunny Friday evening after work, when Nairobi gets really hot, just before the sun loses its grip on the city. A friend at work had been talking about the Institute of Development Studies in the UK during coffee break, telling a group of disconnected, and bored natural scientists about his recent trip there to attend a short course on monitoring and evaluation.
It was not the first time I had been interested in IDS. I had worked with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a research assistant for just over a year and come to know a diverse range of people. Some of the most impressive ones had told me they had obtained their degrees and diplomas from IDS, or they frequently used IDS references in their publications. This had got me curious. The Institute seemed to be widely known and favourably regarded across the social-bioscience divide for its research quality and standing. And no credible development talk finished without a mention of it.
I checked out the website and saw that scholarships from the ZELS-funded projects in the Livestock Livelihoods and Health (LLH) programme could be the opportunity to realise my dream. I had spent almost two years working in Tanzania in the livestock development and livelihoods sector and was interested in pursuing research on social dynamics of zoonotic diseases, including gender relations among Tanzania’s small-holder livestock farmers.
I registered an account to apply for a scholarship – and looked at my work calendar. I had tons of things to do. Ahead there were things I was going to have to cancel and a weekend that would be spent behind closed doors coming up with a working concept paper. Friends would have to be called in at a moment’s notice to give reviews and provide input into the proposal.
Fast forward and there I was in the remotest of villages in the north of Tanzania, where work had sent me to supervise enumerators collecting data on child nutrition. I received an email.
Well, I could see an email icon on my battery-starved laptop but I couldn’t open it because my internet dongle had only a single megabyte of data left.
So I carried on with work in Tanzania, while enjoying her bewitching beauty. A part of me will forever belong to this gigantic East African nation, albeit I am a native of neighboring Kenya, loyalty-wise.
I was finally able to open and read the email three days later when I got to a hotel with internet in Arusha, a city in northern Tanzania, where in fact the LLH fieldwork was to take place. Dr Linda Waldman, my soon-to-be supervisor at IDS, had written a congratulatory message saying that my application had been accepted. You know how your hairs stand on end and you get a rush of goose pumps and tears of joy … it was a marvellous feeling.
But there was a caveat to this excitement.
If you are from Kenya, like me, you have to pay hefty visa fees and an additional lump-sum for the UK health surcharge to come into the UK – £150 a year for the four-year duration of the PhD, and another £322 for the visa. That is around 170,000 Kenya shillings. The average monthly wage for Kenyan professionals is less than half that. I panicked at the thought of not being able to afford these monies and perhaps forfeiting my chance to start my PhD.
Linda put these fears to rest. She outlined the situation in a letter to IDS and I got the funds wired through. I still maintain that it is an absurd joke that UK Embassies in the developing world have to charge so much for visas.
However, I arrived at IDS on Monday, September 28. It was as I had expected: beautiful, classy and grand. And my first meeting with Linda was an emotional one. She was kind and understanding, and very African, in fact. She asked me if I was ‘’warm enough’’ (although the sun was out and bright outside), and offered me help to settle in.
I am ready for this. I am at the bridge, I must cross it. Come rain, come sunshine. I will let you know how it goes. I promise …
Cross-posted from IDS Blog
*Violet’s proposed PhD title is ‘A gendered assessment of vulnerability to brucellosis in cattle, goat and sheep small-holder farmers in northern Tanzania’. You can follow her PhD journey via twitter (@vibarasaafrica), Facebook (Violet Barasa), and LinkedIn (Violet Barasa).