July 9, 2019
“Traditional food insecurity trends are not applicable to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”
That’s how Rawan Ajeen, a recent graduate of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public health, summarizes her findings on food insecurity in Yemen. Before graduating in May with double majors in nutrition and psychology, she collaborated with the nonprofit organization War Child UK, which provides assistance to children affected by war.
Now, Ajeen is the recipient of the fifth annual Susan M. McHale Award for Outstanding Psychological Research. She earned the award on the merit of several projects involving psychiatry, nutrition, and the design and interpretation of psychological research.
For her UNC honors project, she built a website called Yemen Food Insecurity. The site examines factors that influence hunger in a country where four years of devastating conflict have brought the local population to the brink of famine. In addition to outlining the dire food crisis, Ajeen analyzed the different coping mechanisms people use to survive during times of food insecurity.
Working with staff at UNC Libraries’ Research Hub, she used War Child UK’s baseline assessment of food insecurity in one Yemeni district to create a Tableau dashboard that lets viewers compare household levels of food insecurity against people’s demographic characteristics and/or against how often they use coping strategies, like rationing, to deal with food insecurity.
“Typically, we see that female-run households and internally displaced people are more vulnerable to food insecurity,” Ajeen said of her findings. “Given our data set, however, and in the context of the emergency situation in Yemen, such trends do not hold true. This suggests we must approach emergency food insecurity differently and use unique interventions to aid affected communities.”
Alice Ammerman, DrPH, Mildred Kaufman Distinguished Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School, served as Ajeen’s advisor for the project.
“Dr. Ammerman helped form the connection between me and War Child UK, through all the incredible work she is already a part of,” Ajeen said.
“Research is a platform for social change,” she added. “Being able to provide evidence and work toward something that encourages people’s full potential is extremely meaningful to me. I am very interested in representing those who are too often underrepresented in research.”
Post-graduation, Ajeen is continuing her work in the mental health research sector, with plans to eventually pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology so she can blend her passions for public health and mental health through clinical practice, research and academic involvement.
As for the ongoing impact of her undergraduate project, Stefano Battain from War Child UK shared this sentiment: “Rawan’s work is an outstanding example of how non-governmental organizations and those in academia can collaborate to better understand real people’s living conditions and vulnerabilities and further refine how humanitarian assistance is provided. I think the website is an excellent tool for sharing her work with non-technical audiences, and it has contributed to raising attention around the urgent crisis in Yemen.”
Explore Ajeen’s work at the Yemen Food Insecurity website.
Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.