Connecting her Indigenous Upbringing and Professional Aspirations through Science
Through her research, Malaika Persaud is gaining a deeper understanding of traditional medicine
For Sustainability Studies Master’s student, Malaika Persaud, furthering her studies and bringing together Indigenous and Western knowledge has always been the goal. She is now making this dream a reality through the Sustainable Guyana Program, a unique strategic partnership between Trent, the University of Guyana, CGX Energy Inc., and Frontera Energy Corporation, through which 12 current lecturers at the University of Guyana will enter graduate programs at Trent to conduct research in areas relating to sustainable development.
“I accept that everything happens for a reason and think that passion should be the driving force behind our actions,” says Malaika. “Ultimately, we should strive to make positive contributions – this is true, even in academic pursuits, and there is so much that can be done in Guyana with the plethora of natural resources.”
As a pharmacist, Malaika never really considered sustainability as an area of study in relation to her research but found that Trent’s Sustainability Studies graduate program tied in well with her goal to build on the traditional uses of sweet aloe with a deeper scientific understanding of the plant’s medicinal properties.
“Sustainability Studies is an all-encompassing field and very applicable to many different things from Indigenous aspects, local knowledge, crop protection, and culture preservation, to conservation,” Malaika explains. “I could visualize how my area of focus is also a topic of sustainability. Overall, I would say it is the perfect program to align my future goals.”
Developing a valuable medicinal resource
Sweet aloe is used in Guyana as a natural treatment for coughs, colds, and asthma in babies, but not a lot of research has been done to determine the phytochemical composition of this plant locally. Malaika is investigating the phytoconstituents or components present in sweet aloe extracts and will try to determine whether there are any differences between heated and unheated extracts.
“I think more local knowledge on this could have a greater socio-economic impact,” says Malaika, who is conducting her research in the Emery Lab, alongside one of the world’s leading experts in the study of plant hormones, Dr. Neil Emery, and in the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research with Dr. Suresh Narine, director of the Centre and the Sustainable Guyana Program.
“I look forward to making the best use of what is offered in terms of exposure and training on equipment like the mass spectrometers in the Water Quality Centre,” Malaika says. “Being a pharmacist and having worked in manufacturing for years, I have laboratory experience. Trent, provides other tools and instruments that I have not worked on before, and this gives me the opportunity to garner new skills.”
Malaika explains that Indigenous remedies are often poorly documented, therefore the knowledge could be lost over time. By characterizing the compounds present in the leaves and sap of the sweet aloe, she will provide valuable new scientific information, increase awareness of the plant’s use, and promote future research.
Finding balance in the Trent community
Malaika is also finding time to explore Trent University. As a member of Traill College, she has had the opportunity to attend several social events and appreciates the many supports that are in place for students.
“I am continually impressed with the operations of the university: the consideration, inclusivity, and attitudes of the professors, the principals, and the president. It creates the feeling that they are all here for one purpose – to help you succeed and it is truly a great atmosphere,” says Malaika. “I also love that fostering a green environment seems a priority and that people are very considerate generally of protecting this.”
As an educator herself, Malaika enjoys working alongside Trent’s professors as a teaching assistant and learning new teaching techniques. She looks forward to returning to the University of Guyana and sharing the knowledge she gained at Trent with her students.
“The Sustainability Studies program has broadened my perspective in ways I did not imagine. It has opened up numerous possibilities for business ventures, all centered on finding sustainable solutions to major social, economic and environmental issues,” says Malaika. “I plan to continue in an entrepreneurship venture while continuing to pass on the knowledge and skills acquired as an educator.”