My time at ACE has been extremely rewarding as I have had the opportunity to work on several projects and attend conferences, while also showcasing my strengths as a bilingual student. I have had the pleasure of working on two main projects at ACE; a joint-project with Africa Check and the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) environmental map.

My first task at ACE was to complete a joint project with Africa Check, a non-profit independent member of the International Fact-Checking Network. This project focused on the impact of misinformation on public health and politics and both the online and offline spread of misinformation in Africa. I was responsible for the creation of two comprehensive guides using the available evidence on the impact on public health and educational literacy programs to mitigate misinformation in African, UK and Latin American jurisdictions. Working on this project was very interesting for me, as a Canadian health sciences student, as I had previously underestimated the serious threat misinformation poses on vaccination campaigns and political elections, not only in Africa but around the world. I’m looking forward to seeing how my contributions will help to inform the public about the dangers of unreliable sources of information and fake news.

ACEing it – Natalie Tchakarian stands outside house 4 by one of ACE’s signs at the research village of the University of Johannesburg.

My work with CEE has been surrounding the environmental map that is co-produced with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. So far, more than 100,00 articles have been screened and a little over 6000 are now included in the map. We are currently busy with grey literature searches and building a framework with our partner stakeholders to code and extract information from the included articles. I was fortunate enough to be in the country for two external stakeholder engagement events that showcased our progress with this mega map. In fact, in my second week here, my colleagues and I attended the 4th annual Biodiversity Research and Evidence Indaba in Pretoria. This conference welcomed scientists, policy makers and global partners from around the world and was a great introduction to the world of environmental research! We also attended the first Annual Gauteng Environmental Research Symposium to share our progress with the environmental map in the last year.

Other than these main projects, I have also been able to contribute my bilingualism by translating the Africa Evidence Network website to French. This work will ensure that the website is accessible to more people across Africa, particularly Western Africa where French is one of the official languages in most countries.

The team at ACE has welcomed me with open arms and I am incredibly grateful for the way they made me feel at home, in such a short period of time. From our ACE potluck to our jogging club and our daily lunches at the lapa, I will never forget the memories we share. Outside of my internship, the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship allowed me to experience what daily life is like in South Africa. Weekends were spent enjoying the food scene in trendy Melville, exploring the many treasures of Joburg such the as the Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City and Ghandi square to name a few and even experiencing city-wide power loadshedding. Of course, I could not leave South Africa without going on safari! I had the chance to visit the Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa, and was lucky enough to see Africa’s Big Five (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) in person. Before returning home in early December, I also visited South Africa’s Mother City, Cape Town, and connected with a fellow Queen Elizabeth Scholar from Canada! It’s incredible how we attend school less than one hour from each other back home, but will be meeting for the first time on the other side of the world!