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Human Kinetics and Recreation student lives her dream

HKR student Laura Chubb and some of the children from the family she stayed with while in Africa.

By Michelle Osmond

A lot of people decide their fate at a very young age vowing to themselves: "Hey, I'm going to do that," and truly believe life will just pan out that way. How many people actually follow through on those dreams after life's twists and turns? Kinesiology student Laura Chubb did.

The master's student in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR) recently returned from Kenya where she spent time researching women and HIV — something she's dreamed about doing since junior high.

When Ms. Chubb was 13, she read a stereotypical teen novel titled Angels of Mercy. The characters were fictional but the events were based on reality. The book piqued the teenager's interest in Africa and subsequently led her down a very focused path.

"It was a teen fiction novel with an ending that was written for girls who enjoy a good cry every once in a while," she said. "The book discussed one girl's volunteer mission on the Mercy Ships to Uganda – the famine, disease, the refugee camps and the devastation."

Ms. Chubb's first trip to Africa happened in 2009. She fundraised for a year with MUNHOPE, a student-run, non-profit organization at Memorial that promotes health. She spent two months with eight other Memorial students teaching English, business, computers and health to adults living with HIV and AIDS in Tanzania. Ms. Chubb described the experience as "life changing." She knew it was only the beginning.

After finishing her bachelor of physical education degree with a minor in political science at Memorial, the St. George's native had difficulty receiving funding to embark on the master's research she wanted to do, which was a little outside the usual kinesiology research realm. But the obstacle didn't stop her. This past September, Ms. Chubb left for a three month trip to Kenya to do a qualitative study, Women's Health Knowledge: HIV and AIDS in a Global Health Climate. The study examines women who are HIV-positive, aged 20-25 and living in Mombasa, Kenya, and where they receive ideas and information about HIV and AIDS and how it influenced their lived experiences with the disease.

"Examining the socio-cultural aspects of health is a new area of study in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation graduate program," explained Ms. Chubb. "With all of the field options such as biomechanics, motor learning, sport psychology and exercise physiology, I didn't quite fit into any field. However, it is important to realize that societal conditions, the institutions and political systems we are a part of, our own feelings, as well as the relationships we share with others, do influence how we conceptualize and practise health as much as understanding how the body and movements of it work."

Ms. Chubb conducted one-on-one interviews with some of the women to talk about their experience with stigma, loss of membership in their communities and a lost sense of identity, as well as the constant struggle they face to maintain their health. Each woman was also given a journal and disposable camera for a month to compile a photo-journal about what it means to be HIV-positive and a woman living in Mombasa. They documented where they receive education and support, and how the disease can suppress their ability to lead a life free of stigmatization and marginalization.

Ms. Chubb says she would like to live in Africa someday. Meantime, she's hoping to start her PhD in September.

"If not, I'll be applying for positions with the United Nations that will allow me to work with various non-governmental organizations and travel and participate in work I really care about, such as research in the field of HIV and AIDS, health, educational policy and women's rights."