Exiled Senior DRC Army Officer Turns to Community Nutrition
Mr George Ilangila, formerly a Senior Army Officer in the conflict-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), received his Postgraduate Diploma in Community Nutrition more than 27 years after completing his first degree in the country of his birth.
Ilangila, who arrived in South Africa as a refugee fleeing conflict, is now doing a master’s degree.
He received the prize for the most outstanding Postgraduate Diploma Community Nutrition student within the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.
While fleeing the disruption and uncertainty of his embattled country, Ilangila was distressed by people he saw suffering from malnutrition in refugee camps. When he was presented with the opportunity to study again, he therefore chose nutrition in the hope that the knowledge he gains will enable him assist those suffering from malnutrition.
Coming to UKZN after working as a security guard and street vendor presented its own challenges, most notably mastering English, which he says he managed with determination and a strong will to overcome. He also gave credit to the staff within UKZN’s Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and the Student Counselling and Disability Units for their assistance with this challenge.
‘Being away from home is a very difficult situation but having strong faith in God, I managed to adapt to my new environment,’ he said. ‘I never give up on my dreams and ambitions, and still continuously encourage myself to strive and achieve success.’
Ilangila says he drew solace, strength and inspiration from members of the Carbis Road Jamaat Khana and the Gift of the Givers, who assisted him with bursaries during his studies.
In his quest to bring change to people’s lives, Ilangila has enrolled for a Master’s degree at UKZN on the topic of the “Impact of the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on consumer purchases in supermarkets in low and high socioeconomic suburbs in Pietermaritzburg by women aged 19 and older”. ‘Malnutrition, whether in the form of under-nutrition or over-nutrition (causing obesity) is a global public health challenge,’ said Ilangila.
‘Increased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to increases in obesity, which increases the risk factors for hypertension and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, strokes and cardiovascular disease.’
Ilangila hopes his study will provide insights on the relative impact that the proposed sugar tax may have on consumer purchases of these products. He also hopes reducing consumption of sugary beverages will reduce the prevalence of obesity and its related diseases.
Ilangila thanked God for the gift of life and sustenance that he does not take for granted and his supervisors Dr Nicky Wiles and Dr Annette van Onselen, and all the academic and technical support staff of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, particularly Dr Chara Biggs, for their assistance. He also acknowledged his friends and fellow students for their support.