PhD candidate and SABINA student, Petrina Kapewangolo is the proud recipient of a Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (MMMF) grant. The Fund provides grants to women from developing countries to help further their education and strengthen their leadership skills to improve the lives of other women and children in their home countries.
Petrina, who hails from Namibia, is conducting her studies at the University of Pretoria – one of only two South African institutions whose students are considered for MMMF grants. “In my case, this grant is going to help a lot – especially in terms of my living expenses”, she says.
Her current research focuses on HIV and AIDS – looking at natural products for the development of effective drugs that are non-toxic and produce fewer side-effects. “With natural products you are not limited. You could look at anything from plants to marine organisms. That makes it very exciting because you will never run out of ideas”, she adds.
Another factor that drew Petrina to natural products is working with communities. “If you go into a community, you will really be surprised by what the people can tell you about the different indigenous plants they use”. This is something that she saw first-hand while studying for her Master’s degree back in Namibia. “We went out to talk to communities about some of the natural products that were being developed and it was very clear how much knowledge they had to offer. Very often these products are just taken out and commercialised without involving the people at all. It is really important to work together with communities”, she explains.
In fact, after completing her studies in South Africa, Petrina’s aim is to do exactly that. “When I go back home I want to set up a similar lab, but I won’t just focus on HIV. I will probably look at cancer too, with my main goal being drug development that will go as far as clinical trials”, she says.
While she feels extremely honoured to have received the MMMF award, Petrina does have some mixed feelings about being the only Namibian recipient, saying “That made me feel proud and sad at the same time, because it means other women in my country are either not encouraged to apply or they are not aware that these opportunities exist”. However, Petrina is determined to do her part to change that: “I will continue to forward any information I find about grants, and other opportunities like this, to people back home so they can also have the chance to apply”.
Petrina is currently working on an article on the work she has done so far and hopes to be able to publish it by the middle of this year.