Laura Chubb’s interest in Africa dates back a decade when, as a 13-year-old, she read Lurlene McDaniel’s novel “Angels of Mercy.” The book is about a young girl’s volunteer mission on a hospital ship sailing to Uganda, and the famine, disease and devastation she encounters during the trip.
Chubb says from the moment she read the book, she became interested in Africa.
Her first trip to the continent came in 2009 when she and eight other Memorial University students spent two months on Pemba Island, Tanzania, teaching English, business, computers and health to men and women living on the island who were suffering from HIV and AIDS.
The women she met touched her deeply. Chubb knew when she left Tanzania that it would not be her last trip to Africa.
A master’s student in kinesiology at Memorial University’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Chubb returned from a four-month stay in Mombasa, Kenya, in December 2011 where she conducted a study that examined HIV-positive women aged 20-25 about how the disease affects their lives and where they get their information about HIV/AIDS.
The trip was totally different from her Tanzania experience, the St. George’s native says. This time Chubb not only designed her own study but lived in a new country with people she’d never met.
She conducted one-on-one interviews with women who told her about the stigma that goes with living with HIV and how the disease has made them outcasts in their communities.
“Even their own family members wouldn’t share utensils with them,” the 23-year-old said, offering an example of the misconceptions about how the disease is spread.
In addition to the interviews, Chubb also gave the women a journal and disposable camera to compile a photo-journal about what it means to be HIV-positive.
During her time in Kenya, Chubb also volunteered with a non-government organization called Kwacha Afrika. She travelled with the Kwacha youth group to some of the famine-affected areas of Kenya.
“This was an eye-opening experience and one that would make any person grateful just to be able to eat three square meals a day,” Chubb said.
Chubb said her parents Theresa and Wayne Chubb, who live in St. George’s, were initially reluctant about her second trip to Africa particularly because she was not travelling with a group but on her own. During her first trip to Tanzania she went with a Memorial University student-run group called MUNHOPE. However, she says, they realize how important her work on that continent is and are now totally behind her research initiatives.
“They know that I’m going to be going back again some day and that this is a part of my life,” Chubb said.
Chubb is now analyzing the research and hopes to write several articles based on her work.
She’ll also be sharing her experiences with others and giving presentations whenever the opportunity arises. Her research will also be the basis for her master’s thesis.
TA Loeffler is a professor at Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. She is also Chubb’s academic advisor.
Both women have something in common: they have both climbed Africa’s highest mountain — Mount Kilimanjaro. Chubb made the trip back to Tanzania during her second trip to Africa.
Loeffler says Chubb’s latest trip required her to demonstrate the full extent of her perseverance.
“She hit road blocks at every step and faced intense pressure from friends and family to call off the trip. She was a woman on a mission, however, and kept clawing away at all the walls that were put up including lack of funding, visa, and country stability issues.”
Chubb is a woman who wants to make a difference in the world, Loeffler said.
The professor believes Chubb’s time in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation has given her a set of tools to use in both overcoming adversity as well as conducting research in a developing country.
“Having been to Africa before, Laura knew going in what some of the challenges and some of the rewards would be ... I suspect this past experience provided both in levels beyond what Laura could ever imagine.”
Faculty in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation try to foster student-directed learning, individual responsibility and advocacy for change, Loeffler said.
“Laura’s efforts with her service trip and research demonstrate all of those qualities,” she said.
Chubb would like to educate others about Kenya. It’s a beautiful country, she says, and one in which she’s created many memories which include travelling to the Maasai Mara — a famous location for safari where she participated in many cultural traditions.
She also swam with wildlife in the Indian Ocean, and experienced all the historical and contemporary sights of Mombasa with people her age from all over the world. “I guess I just want people to know that Kenya should not be framed as full of sad, impoverished, people. It is a different standard of living and way of life — sometimes, in my opinion, a better way of life,” Chubb said.