By Kitty Nichols

GALWAY, Ireland – The pandemic’s effects on the local economy and commerce is measurable. Its impact on the mental health and life-work balance of those reliant on that economy and commerce is more difficult to discern.

Bertha Kasonde of Provençail
Photo by Katelynn Singleton

One local merchant, Bertha Kasonde, said she had to re-think her master’s program at National University Ireland Galway, among other effects of the shutdown here. She said she was unable to conduct research and collect data in person.

Kasonde did complete her degree, taking advantage of the online opportunities Covid “inspired,” and she said she remains passionate about enhancing food systems and agriculture working with organizations related to her graduate studies.

“I was robbed of opportunity to go and get the physical experience that I would have loved,” said Kasonde, a native of Zambia and a climate change and food systems specialist. This experience had been offered to every student in her program before Covid.

As a student from Zambia in Ireland during the lockdowns, Kasonde said her mental health took a hit.

“There was a limited amount of time spent outside,” said Kasonde, an Irish delegate to the World Food Forum. “It could be quite restrictive to a student because I wanted to go out and explore and interact with nature, which helps you mentally. I wouldn’t wish it on someone to go through the same and, personally speaking, I had to go to therapy just to get out of the situation and forge ahead. I was restricted, I was confined, and it just took a toll on my mental health.”

Kasonde works part-time at Provençail, a purveyor of garlic graters, in an open arts and crafts market in Galway. She said she has enjoyed the experience, believing that it allows her to meet many people from different walks of life. But she said she looks forward to the day she can work more directly in her field and make an impact on climate change adaptation and water resource management.

“I’m still searching and trying to volunteer with organizations,” said Kasonde, who worked with the Zambia Environmental Management Agency for more than four years prior to coming to Ireland. “That is the direction I want to take career-wise. I’ve always wanted to do environmental law. Coming from a developing country, I’ve seen that some of the things that constrain development are a lack of policies that can support certain regulations. If I can be able to find an organization that fosters the implementation of environmental policies that would be great.”

Her drive and passion have not gone unnoticed by Derek Spillan, owner of Provençail.

“She’s a really hard worker and has a good work ethic,” he said. “She’s so driven and determined.”

Kasonde came to Ireland two years ago, managing to earn her master’s in climate change, agriculture and food security in just a year. She also has a bachelor’s in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Zambia.

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