As Rhea Verma prepares for her role with Save the Children, working with Syrian refugees, she reflects on her time at LSBU (London South Bank University) and her career to date
Please tell us about yourself
The world today is increasingly split into the haves and the have-nots. While countries such as the USA and the UK battle with obesity and diabetes, many millions more around the world don’t have enough food to stay healthy, with humanitarian crises creating extra pressure on infrastructures that are already struggling to cope. One LSBU alumni is doing her bit to change all that.
BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition graduate Rhea Varma is currently preparing herself for a project management role with Save the Children, managing the maternal and child health and nutrition outcomes for Syrian refugees based in the Greek Islands. It’s a role she feels she is well-prepared for after spells as a consultant with Medair and developing feeding centres in Lesotho and South Africa with Msizi Africa. She still feels, however, that the foundations for her career in Humanitarian Nutrition were laid at LSBU.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
“I initially enrolled on the BSc (Hons) Food & Nutrition degree,” says Rhea. “However, during my first year I learned so much about the Nutrition Sciences, I just wanted more, and felt that Human Nutrition would be better suited for my future plans. I wanted a more in-depth understanding of nutrition, biology and physiology and the BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition degree provided that. If you want to be a Humanitarian Nutritionist, you need a strong scientific foundation, as such, this degree opened doors professionally and academically for me.”
How was the experience studying Human Nutrition at LSBU?
Rhea found the course extremely enjoyable, as well as challenging, for a number of reasons.
“The best thing about the course was being taught subjects I am passionate about by people who have in-depth knowledge; experts in their scientific disciplines,” she says.
The modules are all of a very high standard and my lecturers were always very supportive of my own goals.
“I think that’s a big factor behind my First-Class Honours degree – which opened the door to undertaking a Masters at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.”
Tell us about your career path
It was while studying at LSBU that Rhea had her first experience of helping others through nutrition.
“I was on the Board of Trustees for Msizi Africa, a small organisation that funds feeding centres in Lesotho and South Africa,” she says. “During my time at LSBU I developed diets for chronically malnourished, vulnerable and orphaned children living in rural mountain regions where supplying food is very limited and the basic nutritional needs are rarely met.”
Rhea spent three months in Lesotho and South Africa, researching local diets and focusing on vitamins and minerals that were needed to help children to grow and develop. It was research she was able to use as part of her degree in her final year, developing a nutrition-focused feeding centre model for Msizi Africa.
After finishing her education, Rhea built on her experience with Msizi Africa while working for Medair, the international relief and recovery emergency aid organisation.
“I was employed as a Food Security Project Manager, working on a project that was aimed at helping vulnerable populations in rural Haiti,” she says. “We focused on outcomes such as agriculture practice, nutrition, cash-for-work incentives and livelihood training.”
Tell us about your new role
As she prepares for her role with Save the Children, Rhea is already looking forward to making a real difference.
“I’m looking forward to working with Syrian refugees,” she says. “This crisis is not going away, and I’m humbled and excited to be working with an organisation that targets the most vulnerable populations. Working with a team of Humanitarian Nutritionists means that I will learn more and become more fluent in my field. It’s also an area of work where job opportunities are often in dangerous and insecure countries – so my mum is so much happier that I’ll be based in Greece for this role.”
What are your future plans?
Rhea has already made a huge contribution to improving the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and it is something she intends to be doing for a long time yet.
“I do the best jobs in the world,” she says. “I hope to continue supporting vulnerable populations where the simple human right of good food and water is denied them – and I’d encourage anyone thinking of following in my footsteps to go for it, and embrace the pressure of an academic challenge!”