Dreams of a Food Scientist

Esther Katungwe working on RUTF samples

Esther beamed as she explained about her offer to work at Valid Nutrition[1] after completing the internship which she had with them for 6 months. This was no simple matter for her, since she knew most of her classmates did not gain the skills she had from the internship program and also considering that most of the graduates who finished school with her were unemployed. Esther became part of the Malawi Oil-Seeds Sector Transformation (MOST) Programme, as an intern in 2015. At that time, she was a third year student at The Malawi Polytechnic, a constituent of University of Malawi. When she arrived at Valid Nutrition, Esther was surprised with the factory set-up. “I did not know that we will have to work in a complex Laboratory, I thought there will be simple biology tests similar to the set-up in college”.

After work commenced, there was no typical day schedule for Esther. She realised college Laboratory tests were more theoretical than Practical. On a busy day, she had more than 8 tests to work on.                                                                                         Esther Katungwe working on RUTF samples

“I would stand for 4 hours and thought I will give up the internship, but turned out to be the most exciting experience. It always kept me thinking of the results for quality Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) for malnourished children and adults”. Esther was mentored during her placement.  MOST, her family and supervisors were the support she needed throughout her placement.

 

 

“I come from a family of seven, four boys and three girls”, she said. “My parents moved around and I had to change primary education four times”.  While in Secondary school, she was recruited to play netball for her school. She played in leagues across Malawi and internationally. She continued with the sport until College. Through sheer and grit, she managed to save funds from the sport, to pay for her College tuition fees, stationary and stipend. Through all this Esther held on to the dream of finishing higher education and being employed to work in her field. “I know, not many food scientists work in their field in Malawi”.

In 2015 her dream materialised. She was recruited by MOST. Esther was placed at Valid Nutrition in Lilongwe. She recalled from the recruitment meeting that, the MOST Programme is made available with the assistance from DFID implemented by Adam Smith International in United Kingdom. “I know of the Oil-Seeds Products Technical Working Group that is under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism” she smiled saying, “I am extremely greatful to all of them, I had the financial and personal support during my internship”.

As Esther commenced work at Valid Nutrition, she received the best mentorship for her to become confident in the work she was doing. Step by step, she acquired skills in quality management and learnt international standards for quality consumer products.  “I now understand protein tests, work environment etiquette and respecting the chain of command”.

Overtime, Esther felt the colleagues she was working with were at a safer work position. She recalls how she was worried as the end of her 6 months of internship grew closer. “I felt once am not employed, my focus would be on sports.  My food science career will be on hold”, she said sadly

Fortunately in December 2016, Esther was offered employment at Valid Nutrition. She said happily “After signing the 6 months contract, I felt accepted into the system and accepted into the family that is Valid Nutrition”.

Esther continued saying, “The programme has transformed me. My supervisors at work commend the skills I have acquired and they are always challenging me with new laboratory procedures”. She has been included in the training for the new version of ISO 2000 laboratory standards by Valid Nutrition. “I look to the future and I know am at the right place”. 



[1] Valid Nutrition is an Oil Seed processing company, which produces Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). The RUTF is produced from groundnuts and other reagents, for malnourished Children and Adults.