• Final Goodbye

    It’s sad to say that this is the last blog I’ll be writing for this internship. After all the wonderful memories I have made with my community partners and fellow interns, I wish our time together wasn’t up. In the last two weeks, we have been working on our Internship Poster and Report which we plan to present to the Western heads East facilitators sometime in September. Even though it took a lot of hard work and touch ups, I really enjoyed getting to write about my trip and reflect on all our achievements. It was also a good opportunity for us to reflect on what went wrong so that we could make some suggestions for the coming years. It’s great that Western offers such internships abroad for students to gain cross-cultural experience and practice their research skills to prepare for their future careers. As someone hoping to go into medicine, I enjoyed getting to expand my research experience working in public health and pursuing my passion for advocating for better mental health services across countries.

    Although we have completed our tasks for the internship, our supervisor was very impressed with our work and asked if we could complete a few more tasks for him, to which we graciously agreed. We hope to take what we have learned about Mental Health in Africa to compose a research article to compare the Mental Health Systems in Canada and Kenya. This will be a great opportunity for us to reflect more on what we learned and gain additional research experience.

    That pretty much wraps it up. I had such a great time as an Intern at AKU. I am excited to get to mentor future applicants and share my experience with them.

    Until then,

    Ariana Walji

  • Bittersweet

    After a full day of flying, I am writing my final blog from the comfort of my own bed in Canada. Aside from missing my family and my cat Mimi, I was having such an amazing time in Kenya that I honestly didn’t want to come home. In just two months, I had made a home out of the beautiful east african country.

    There were a lot of ups and downs leading up to my last day of the internship. Our mentor was returning from Karachi, Pakistan but he unfortunately got sick during his travels and couldn’t meet with us. We wanted to make sure he focused on his health as much as possible, so we made sure to complete any of the last tasks he assigned for review when he felt better. This included our newspaper articles and literature review. We also worked on some last minute posters that he could add to his files for later use, such as on Cancer Awareness and the Harms of Smoking. Fortunately, we had completed everything on time and had the last 4 days of our trip to explore the last few bits of Nairobi.

    On Sunday, we went to National Park Safari where we saw so many incredible animals, like lions, giraffes, zebras, and rhinos. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget. The animals came so close to the car that I could almost touch them. I felt immersed in the wildlife and soaked in the beauty of it all.

    When Friday came along, we were all packed and ready to go. Just before catching our ride to the airport, I received an email from our airline that our flight would be delayed to the next day. While most people would have been upset to have to wait a whole extra day before returning home, I was grateful to have that little bit of extra time in Kenya.

    Reflecting on my work throughout this internship, I am ever so grateful to have embarked on this abroad opportunity. I made so many wonderful memories, networked with like-minded peers and award-winning health professionals, and got to explore one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to with rich culture. I am now returning with new knowledge, skills, and a newfound appreciation fo Kenyan culture and diversity. It means a lot to me to know that I was able to make an impact to raise awareness for mental health– a cause that I hope to continue to advocate for at Western.

    Thank you all for following me along through my journey as an intern at AKUH Nairobi.

    Bye for now,


  • Wrapping Up

    It’s sad to say that our time here is slowly coming to a close. I can’t say I am excited to return to Canada, because I have quickly made Nairobi feel like my true home. Being here with family I haven’t seen for the last 10 years makes it particularly special for me. There’s so much I still want to see and do here, but not enough time. Who would have thought that two months would fly by so fast?

    As I wrap up my work with Dr. Merali, I have been reflecting on all the great work we have accomplished thus far. I can’t wait to share all of it with the other interns back home and hear about all the wonderful things they have done during their placements.

    Last week, I finished working on the Literature Review on Shame and Depression. At first, I wasn’t sure how successful I would be in finding articles that covered this topic, especially limited to just the Kenyan context. The goal for this review was to explore the different factors that contributed to the shame of having a mental illness in Sub-Saharan Africa. To my surprise, I found numerous articles that had touched upon the topic, highlighting its prevalence. I found that the three main barriers to mental health services were: a) fear of stigmatization and poor awareness of mental health, (b) sociocultural barriers and financial strains, and c) geographical limits. This task required a lot of work, but it broadened by understanding of why it is so hard for those suffering with a mental illness to receive professional help here. I truly hope that the work we have done to promote mental health awareness will have an impact and help reduce some of the societal stigmas.

    My research partner has also been doing some research of his own to write articles for the newspaper. He is currently working on one that talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of the Kenyan community. It’s nice that this internship really helped to bring out our creative sides through combining our graphic design skills for posters while also honing in on our research abilities.

    Dr. Merali is returning from Karachi, Pakistan tomorrow and we are very excited to meet with him to finalize our last few tasks and feedback for our research. By the next time I write my blog, I will be 12,000 km away and missing my time here.

    Until then,

    Ariana Walji

  • Home Away From Home

    It’s almost been a month since we first stepped foot in Nairobi. The warm smell of the air as the soft winds of the winter season brushed through my hair like a comb. It was comforting and familiar; a place that I have called home all my life. It felt wonderful to be back in my home country after so many years. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by our driver who dropped me off at my grandfather’s house, just across from the hospital where I would be working for the next 2 months. It is such a crazy thought that I have this opportunity to return home while pursuing my interests in mental health research in an international setting. Once I got settled in, I began preparing everything I would need for my orientation the next day. I was more ready than ever.

    At 8:45 am, I walked into the Psychology Department where I was met by Dr. Merali. We had a meeting to discuss our virtual progress thus far and go over any feedback he had for our work. We were also met by our Coordinator, Michelle who gave us a tour of the campus and hospital. She showed us different quiet places where we could work. My favourites had to be the university library, which had modern touches and panoramic glass views of the city around us. I watched in awe as the palm trees swayed in the tropical winds and the green pigments of the leaves were brightened by the strong beams of sunlight. There were also several cafes to work at, like Java and Art Cafe. I was quick to try their iced coffee for the equivalent of 2.70 canadian dollars. Wow!

    Every Tuesday, we meet with Dr. Merali to update him on our progress for the tasks he assigns. So far we have worked on several mental and emotional health posters and e-lectures. We just recently finished our presentation on stress management with hopes to present to the board of directors in the coming week.

    Here’s a sneak peak of one of many posters I made:

    My intern partner and I have been enjoying our time in Kenya, exploring as much as the city as we can during our free time. Last weekend, we visited the Giraffe Centre and Mamba Village. Being a lover of animals, I was very excited about this excursion and couldn’t wait to send pictures to friends and family to show what a wonderful experience I was having.

    This week, we are working on a literature review on Shame and Depression, and several articles for the newspaper. I cannot wait to share more of our great work next blog! Stay tuned readers.

    Ariana Walji

  • Bonjour Paris

    It’s been two weeks since we first landed in Kenya. One of the many reasons I chose to complete my internship at the Aga Khan University Hospital is because it is the exact hospital where I was born 20 years ago. Nairobi is my home and I am happy to come back after so many years and make a positive change in the community through our research with the Psychology Department. But before I get into all that we’ve done in the country, I thought it would be fun to take you along your 12 hour layover in Paris for this blog! J’adore Paris depuis longtemps. Since we only had 12 hours to tour one of my favourite cities, I made a thorough plan of the routes we would take so we could see absolutely everything, and that we did– well almost.

    It started with our tiring arrival at the Charles De Gaulle Airport. After waiting an hour in line to get through the security check, I had to jog all of my high school french class memory to order a taxi to the Trocadero circle. I instantly recognized our driver’s Kenyan accent and we chatted away about how we would be travelling there for our internship. He was amazed and told us many stories of his adventures back home. In that hour drive to the city centre, I was building up my anticipation for when we would finally arrive in Kenya, but we still had over a day to go. We were in the city of love, and my internship partner Mohammad and I were determined to make the most of our time there. We got some lovely pictures by the Eiffel Tower, then dashed down Avenue Kléber to the Champs Elysées. This has to be one of my favourite spots in Paris, with all of my favourite designer stores lined down the street. I bought a lovely Le Pliage bag from Longchamp as a little souvenir for my mom.

    After a bit of walking, we took Le Métro (and yes, I feel very french writing this all out) to the Louvre! Gotta love the gorgeous glass pyramids scattered across the french gardens. There’s really nothing quite like it. In that moment, I felt like it was all a dream and had to get Mohammad to pinch me so I would know that I was really where I have been waiting years to visit.

    We crossed the Pont Neuf to visited the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop and bought a few of my favourite Plays, including Hamlet. I couldn’t wait to tell my fellow readers back home about it.

    Finally, we were in my favourite place of all, Sacre Coeur. It was a long and sweaty walk up the hill to the Basilica, but it was all worth it when we reached the top. There was live music playing, artists at every corner painting the scenery, and a view of the city below. After all that walking, we deserved a little break and stopped at a restaurant called Grenouilles for lunch. We sat munching on our baguettes, enjoying the surroundings and each other’s company in the marvellous city.

    Once 5 o’clock rolled around, we made sure to catch an early taxi back to the Airport so we could be on time for our flight. But I made sure not to board the plane without some Ladurée macaroons in hand. YUM!

    That pretty much wraps up our day in Paris, stay tuned for the next blog where I run through the many things we have been working on since our arrival in Kenya!

  • Up Up And Away!

    The day is finally here! As I sit at the airport awaiting my flight (with an even more exciting stopover in Paris, France), I can’t help but think about what great things wait for me upon my arrival. There is so much that I plan to accomplish through this internship, I can barely sit still in these seats. Well, it certainly doesn’t help that the airport seats are incredibly uncomfortable, but nonetheless I struggle to contain the excitement. There were many things that I had to do before this day came. For instance, booking my plane ticket, getting the yellow fever vaccine, and worst of all– packing. “What should I bring? What am I forgetting? Is this enough for 2 months abroad?” These were but a few of the questions running through my head in the last week before my departure for Nairobi. Now that I am sitting here after all that stress, I can finally relax a bit. With an overpriced burger in hand, I chomp away as the hours go by before boarding my flight. Luckily, we get a few days to work on our jet lag because our orientation isn’t for another 4 days upon our arrival. I am thrilled to tour the hospital that I will call home for the next few months of work, and to strengthen my network with likeminded professionals to advance in my future work field of medicine.

    To be productive during my 22 hour flight, I plan to get a bit ahead on some of the tasks assigned to me by our mentor, Dr. Merali. Perhaps I can start on our new e-lecture series on Stress Management, or even start the literature review on Shame and Depression. But knowing myself all too well, I’ll probably end up binging a few movies here and there, one of the greatest perks of long flights is the complementary television the size of a wallet.

    Here we go, up up and away. See you on the other side readers!

  • Getting Started

    After months of getting situated, we finally began our placements for the Western Heads East Program last week. I couldn’t be more excited to be working with the Aga Khan Hospital this summer in Nairobi, Kenya! While I am working remotely for the time being, it has been even more exciting than I had hoped. We received our tasks for the month from our Program Coordinator, so I have been working on planning out the next few months of e-lectures and literature reviews that I have been assigned. From weekly meetings with our Western and Aga Khan Coordinators, to Swahili lessons, to preparing for our first e-lecture presentation in front of the health board at the hospital, we are definitely off to a busy start. I am excited to see what else we will accomplish in the coming weeks.

    Until then!

    Ariana Walji