With a background in microbiology, and a Master’s Degree in Public Health specializing in environmental health, Luqman was appointed to work as an environmental health campaign manager at a not for profit organization called groundWork, South Africa.

groundWork promotes public environmental health and seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people in South Africa, and increasingly in Southern Africa. They assist civil societies to have a greater impact on environmental governance by placing particular emphasis on assisting vulnerable and previously disadvantaged people who are most affected by environmental injustices.

His work, he says, enables him to move from being just a researcher to practically making a difference on the ground. Luqman applied for the Tekano Fellowship because he wanted to learn new things, share his experiences about environmental health and also to network with people working in health equity. In the fellowship he has learnt a lot from the fellows and the various experiences provided. He has been able to apply a lot of what he learned in the fellowship to his work place and has also grown as a human being.

The fellowship took him to different places in terms of new knowledge, new skills and even geographically. His favourite module was Module 2 on Nutrition and Food Security, during which they visited a PHA Food and Farming Campaign in Philippi. He learnt that it is not enough to have food – you need to know the contents of what you eat because this could impact your health negatively or positively; and where it comes from because the food is influenced by a variety of social determinants which impact access, cost and other things. It was here that he learned about the role social determinants play in health outcomes.

He also had an opportunity to visit health facilities that reminded him about the health system crisis in South Africa. In some places, it was clear that the government has failed in the progressive realization of section 27 of the Constitution, which affirms everyone’s right to access to healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare.

He saw that despite the challenges that exist within the health system, there are still people who are working within those systems trying to make a difference. This module was an eye opener and a motivation to make a difference in whatever situation he found himself. It also helped him develop a broad understanding of other issues that affect health and thus shaped his advocacy strategies to address health inequity.

The fellowship has exposed the fellows to online platforms and to connections with the global Atlantic Fellowship network. He has found Canvas, the online platform, very useful in his work. Module 4 took them to the London School of Economics (LSE) where they were exposed to content on inequality in the UK and the idea of using wealth to determine inequality.

His passion for environmental health led him to collaborate with other fellows on three different projects. He collaborated with Lena and Zanele, two environmental health practitioners, working for the City of Cape Town. They held a workshop to equip health professionals (doctors, nurses, environmental health practitioners and waste managers) with the knowledge and skills for sustainable management of healthcare waste.

He collaborated with Noluthando, Amy and Tracey on a school feeding project to promote healthy eating habits among primary school children. Luqman also worked with Michelle who is a lawyer, to write a submission to the United Nations (UN) Council for Economic Rights. In this project he drew out the environmental health argument on a particular environmental health issue on air pollution and health that is happening in South Africa.

Overall, the fellowship experience and the projects he worked on have not just strengthened him as a person but have made him to have a better understanding of himself as a leader, because as a leader you need to understand yourself first. He has learnt to:

“have difficult conversations which one might want to avoid, to look critically at issues, understand and respect different perspectives are one of my biggest achievements of this fellowship for me. This has reflected in my day to day activities both at home and at work, and I am indeed very grateful for that.”