From Montreal to Madagascar: Helping to change lives with the World Food Programme
- Christine Fortier
In 2020, the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Christine Trudel, an UdeM alumna who has been a nutrition officer in Madagascar for over a year, shared in the honour.
Christine Trudel’s journey with the World Food Programme (WFP) began in 2018 in Dakar, Senegal. She therefore had reason to feel proud when she learned in October 2020 that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to the UN food aid organization. “Naturally, the first reaction was a feeling of immense pride,” she said when reached at her office in Madagascar by videoconference. “We feel really honoured to have received this prize, because it gives the 20,000 employees who are working tirelessly on the ground every day, under difficult conditions, a voice. More importantly, the award gives a voice to the 811 million people who go to bed hungry every night. It creates momentum to harness aid and resources to support and serve them better.” She points out that the WFP’s motto is ‘We stay and deliver’: “This means that when there are tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, refugees, floods, COVID-19 and other crises, we stay on the ground to help the local population. That’s another reason why we got the Nobel Prize.”
Nutrition and humanitarian assistance
Christine, a Montréal native, was studying nutrition at Université de Montréal when she attended a lecture by now-retired UdeM prof Lyne Mongeau, a leading expert in public nutrition. “I listened to her lecture and I said to myself, Oh my God! I’ve found my vocation!” After completing the nutrition program, she did a Master’s in public health and interned with Professor Mongeau at the Québec ministry of health and social services. She was then offered a job with the ministry and worked there for three years.
When she made her career choice, was she already thinking about working in humanitarian aid? Christine says it was mainly to help people and make a difference: “So humanitarian aid was a logical next step in my career. Of course, the scale is larger — an organization like the WFP is a different world. I learned so much from Lyne Mongeau; she was a great mentor, and I have applied all the knowledge I gained to humanitarian assistance.”
While her studies at UdeM prepared her for her current job, the program that brought her into the WFP also made a big difference. The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) program gives young professionals an opportunity to gain field experience in humanitarian assistance and development. Canada sponsors positions at the WFP and Christine was the first Canadian JPO in 10 or 15 years: “They opened up new positions in 2018, so if there are students out there who are interested, I encourage them to apply, especially since there are huge nutrition needs in the French-speaking world.” For example, French is one of the official languages of Madagascar, along with Malagasy, and of Senegal, along with Wolof.
Putting her shoulder to the wheel
Christine loves her job, which consists in making sure people don’t go to bed hungry and receive food of good nutritional quality: “I set up innovative programs to reduce malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. For example, here in Madagascar, rice is the top food for everyone, in all social strata. So we’re currently conducting a pilot project to introduce fortified [i.e. vitamin- and mineral-enriched] rice in our school canteen programs. With food fortification, we’re not trying to change people’s eating habits but rather to offer them more nutritious products.”
Other initiatives include setting up community gardens and school canteen gardens. They have to be adapted to local climatic conditions in a country that is experiencing an unprecedented drought. “One image that has stuck with me is working with a community and then coming back a few months later and seeing they had grown lettuce in the sand at 45 degrees Celsius! People take pride in being able to produce a variety of nutritious foods locally.”
Christine loves Madagascar, a country she says is worth discovering for its culture, natural beauty and welcoming people. She is motivated to continue her work there by the local population’s resilience: “They work hard to survive and provide for their families — it’s really moving.”