MHHA: Who are you?
AK: Anastasia Koch, Cofounder of Eh!woza & Junior Research Fellow at the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town.
MHHA: In what part of the world do you work?
AK: Cape Town, South Africa
MHHA: What is your area of interest or expertise?
AK: Biomedical research (expertise), public/community engagement (expertise), anthropology and social sciences around public engagement (interest)
MHHA: Do you have research/practitioner partners?
AK: Many super important and valued collaborators. The people who work on Eh!woza: Ed Young, co-founder and co-director of Eh!woza, Prof Digby Warner (biomedical research mentor and director of Eh!woza), Bianca Masuku (anthropology doctoral candidate and director of Eh!woza), Lee Burgers (Eh!woza project manager), IkamvaYouth, The Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, The University of Cape Town, The Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Dr Nolwazi Mkhwanazi), Medecins Sans Fronteires (the Khayelitsha mission), and probably the most important – they young people we work with.
MHHA: Who funds your work?
AK: The Wellcome Trust and the National Research Foundation of South Africa
MHHA: Can you please tell us what about your work makes your smile?
AK: Almost everything – especially when new or tricky projects come together or older projects take on interesting new directions.
MHHA: So, what projects have you been working on recently?
AK: Eh!woza is a public engagement project that aims engage young people from areas that are heavily affected by TB with biomedical research and then provide the tools and platforms for young people to produce documentaries, skits, poetry and music videos around the social and personal impact of the disease. The project was started in 2013 after an informal conversation between biomedical researcher, Anastasia Koch and artist, Ed Young. The work is funded by the Wellcome Trust and the South African National Research Foundation, and receives huge amounts of institutional support from research groups within the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town. Young people involved in the project are recruited in partnership with IkamvaYouth and Medecins Sans Fronteires. Eh!woza has recently registered as an independent NPO and will be embarking on an exciting period of consolidation, scale up and growth over the next three years.
MHHA: And what are the challenges of your work?
AK: Collaborations can be tricky sometimes. People working in different spheres and fields almost speak a different language and have different ways of working and expectations of the work. Even though it can be challenging, when it works it is hugely rewarding so totally worth it.
MHHA: So true, and there is something about the journey through a challenging situation that makes the resolution that much more valuable. Perhaps that journey is the joy of teamwork. Speaking of...what are three positive things you/your team has achieved in the last year?
AK: We’ve managed make headway on a newer project that we started in 2018, the MSF/Musos/DR-TB Collab. The project aims to bring young survivors of drug resistant TB together with local musicians, in the hope that the experience of surviving DR-TB inspires the production of new music and music videos. Abospitter recently produced and released the music video for Nquml’umqala,music video. A hugely exciting development is that we were recently (two months ago), awarded a relatively large award from the Wellcome Trust. This provides the scope for the organisation to grow as an independent organisation and become a leader in public engagement, as well as make a real impact on the well being of people affected by infectious disease.
MHHA: Your team sounds amazing, and your work is inspiring. What do you hope to be doing in 5 years? Where will you be?
AK: To be working with Eh!woza around diseases that have an impact in South Africa and other LMICs, hopefully having seen and contributed to Eh!woza’s growth into an organisation that is pushing the boundaries of public engagement and implementing sustainable work that genuinely impacts peoples’ lives.
MHHA: Sustainability is crucial. And a large part of this can sometimes be mentorship. So what advice would you give to a mentee aspiring to join your field?
AK: The work I do is highly inter-disciplinary and in some ways isn’t placed within one field. I guess the best advice I could give is to choose to work on something you’re invested in and passionate about (as cheesy as that sounds) and to learn to be flexible in terms of what you expect, how you think and what you do to make collaborations work – even when tricky, they are probably one of the most valuable and rewarding parts of the work I do.