July Staff Spotlight: Meet Ashley Yonga

Ashley has been working at MAF as our Volunteer Research Assistant for the past 2 months, and is loving it. She lives in London and when she isn’t working she is either reading, or watching an excessive amount of film and TV – quite often both! She also enjoys yoga, travelling and finding the perfect oat and banana pancake recipe.

If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Marilyn Monroe – Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been a bit obsessed with old Hollywood, not just the movies but the way the industry worked and the culture that existed during that time. No one suffered more at the hands of it than Marilyn Monroe and it would be interesting to hear her talk about her experiences and I wonder what she’d think of Hollywood now especially given the #MeToo movement.

Michelle Obama – I’ve always loved her, as the first black First Lady she’s been an inspiration to me since I was 10. I read her book, Becoming, (along with millions of other people around the world) where she is so honest and raw about her experiences growing up, her career changes and being married to one of the most powerful people on the planet. If she could put all that in a book, imagine what she’d say at dinner!

Angelina Jolie – I didn’t know this at the time, but looking back on it now she’s probably one of the reasons I’ve pursued a career in global health. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was very little and a lot of her career has been defined by her humanitarian work. She’s also had a very interesting life so would love to hear even more about it and see how it matches up with my perceptions of her.

What book or movie has left the biggest impression on you?

I’m going to cheat and talk about two books. One is Pride and Prejudice, which I read for the first time when I was 12 and have read about 5 times since, with a re-read as recent as the past week. It was the first classic book I ever read and completely subverted my expectations of what reading a classic book is like. It made me laugh, I fell in love with the characters, but even more importantly I fell in love with the prose and Jane Austen’s descriptions which have stayed with me to this day. I’ve read many a classic since but none can have the same meaning as P&P. It’s still my favourite book!

The second book is Gone Girl. I was 16 when I read it and it surprised me how much I was gripped by a story about adult themes such as marriage and gender roles. It marked a huge transition in the kind of books and stories I consumed after that and completely changed the way I saw storytelling. It introduced the notion of the “unlikable” woman to me, and that was incredibly fascinating to read. I didn’t realise how much I needed a book like that at that age until I was older and knew its significance.

If you could create a documentary, what would it be about?

Maternal health in humanitarian settings. I do believe that maternal health is chronically underserved when it comes to public consciousness. It’s only recently that people have been discussing the inequalities faced by black and other ethnic minority women in regard to maternal outcomes. Pregnancy doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it doesn’t stop because a war is on or a hurricane has hit. I would love to share stories of women, health professionals, families and communities who have to support their expectant and new mothers during these most extraordinary circumstances.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Hawaii! I’m a big city girl, I’ll probably always live in the city because I’ve lived in many different ones (Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, London and Bristol) and I adore everything about them. However, I’d love to spend a month or two in a secluded island in Hawaii: full of trees, mountains, beaches and no internet. I love the beach and the ocean, and growing up in Kenya I’ve always been more of a jet ski than a snow ski person. The idea of spending your days surfing, hiking, and reading outdoors on a remote island, especially in these times of constant connection, is nothing short of idyllic.

If you could only listen to 3 albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Beyonce – Lemonade (actual genius and a visual album so it’s also a movie)

Mozart – Requiem (I performed this with my choir at school and it was one of my favourite concerts. It’s in Latin and I actually know the words which helps me feel pretty smart)

Taylor Swift – Speak Now (reminds me so distinctly of my teen years and is one of the few CDs I actually own since I grew up in the age of downloads. I’d hate to be apart from it)

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