Academic Partnership Equips Communities for a Brighter Future

This blog was written by Angela Siele, a student at Cornell University, who shares her experience of working in Burundi with Episcopal Relief & Development, in partnership with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

One fall afternoon, in the gorgeous Upstate New York campus of Cornell University, Prof. Peter Hobbs and Ms. Sara Delaney, Cornell Alum and Program Officer at Episcopal Relief & Development, offered a proposal that altered the course of my education. 

They had taken an interest in my desire to work with rural communities in Africa, and had matched me to a student researcher position, through a partnership between Episcopal Relief & Development and Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. On March 4, 2014, I began this pioneering venture in the heart of Africa, Burundi


Before my visit began, I had researched this African state, building up expectations and dismantling my misconceptions. The statistics on extreme poverty, malnutrition, corruption, poor access to education and prevalence of HIV/AIDS created alarming images in my mind. Images that I was familiar with, having been born and raised in Kenya, another developing African state. Yet from the time of my arrival, the supportive team at the Province of the Anglican Church of Burundi (PEAB) has guided and nurtured me through my introduction and consequent interactions within the scenic country.


I have learned so much since the beginning of my time here. Our clear objectives allowed us to establish the location and scope for our study on agriculture and nutrition linkages, and the results we obtain through this coordinated research exercise will impact Episcopal Relief & Development and the PEAB’s household food security and nutrition programs. I have learned how to implement key survey tools like the Household Hunger Scale (from USAID’s Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance team) and the Women’s Dietary Diversity Scale (adapted from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the European Union). We have found that close linkages with key officials in leading development organizations such as the FAO and the National Research Institute of Burundi (ISABU) have offered us insights and valuable partnerships.


I am most grateful to Episcopal Relief & Development, with special mention of Program Officer Ms. Sara Delaney, to Mr. Leonidas Niyogabo of the PEAB, and to Cornell University’s Prof. David Pelletier, Prof. Peter Hobbs and Prof. Steven Kyle. They have each continued to be a source of in-depth knowledge and invaluable support and encouragement. The translation services of Gideon Bigirimana, Reverend Leopold Ndereyimana and Lewis Niyukuri have enabled us to reach out to our respondents with clarity. I’m deeply humbled and continually enriched by the hospitality of the women and men with whom I work. Their life stories are truly remarkable and I am grateful to be part of this project, the findings of which will equip them to create a brighter future.


Angela Siele is a student at Cornell University.

Images: Top, Nyanza Lac Research Team. Middle 1 and Bottom, Agriculture from Burundi. Middle 2, Burundi.