Blog Monthly Archives:: March 2013
by Jonathan Walker
Want to know how to engage, inspire and motivate students to become champions for health in their community? As DASH’s Jonathan Walker shares from his experience working with Kayole youth, students need to identify with a project and have a voice in its development and outcome. Then, the sky is the limit for both their personal and community growth.
Focusing a research project on how students perceive health in their community was a great way of engaging students on issues that affect their everyday lives. Through the photo-mapping method, the project linked student’s perceptions on health to the physical attributes and locations of their lived environments (e.g. schools, streets, markets, public spaces, etc.). Not only did this connect subjective and objective indicators for community health assets and risks, but provided a rich collection of qualitative data to act upon.
As the research and data collection for the pilot project reached its end, neither myself, the project supporters, nor teachers needed to intervene to prompt the students toward further action. After putting in the work through hours of photo-mapping, focus groups and community interviews, the students had taken ownership of the project and wanted to see that their efforts make a lasting impact in the community.
We had a discussion on what we could do with the photos and how we could use our research findings to promote and advocate for community health. A whole range of ideas came up, including contacting the local MP to showcase the health risks children and youth face, to creating free student-led health workshops in the community to raise awareness and sensitize residents on healthy practices.
In the short time since the pilot project (May 2013), the students, teachers, and project coordinators have organized several impactful events. The first was a trip to the Africa Continental Headquarters at the UN offices in downtown Nairobi to spread awareness about the health issues faced by youth in Kayole (see right). For many of the students from the PPM project, this was their first time experiencing the downtown district, let alone having an opportunity to visit the United Nations. It was a tremendous learning opportunity, and resulted in partnerships formed with two NGOs in consultative status with the U.N. : WFWP (Women’s Federation for World Peace) and WAIT, an HIV awareness and prevention organization. The students had opportunities to present about their work at workshops and conferences organized by both the WFWP (picture) and WAIT. (picture)
Due to the successes of the pilot, and the interest for more youth to get involved, we’re now forming an organization– Healthy Settings Kenya – which seeks to support the efforts of youth in Kayole and elsewhere in student-led research and health interventions for their communities. Future efforts are also being made to improve the school environment of the Great Hope Educational Centre where the participating PPM students attend secondary school. Great Hope caters for underprivileged students in Kayole who otherwise could not afford school fees, and works to provide a safe environment for orphaned, neglected and HIV affected youth to receive education and keep hope alive.
Student Perceptions on Health in their Environments: reflections from community research in Nairobi, Kenya (Part I)
by Jonathan Walker
Jonathan completed an internship with DASH in the winter of 2012 and has spent the past 6 months in East Africa, where he was working on a CIDA internship with The Aids Support Organization (TASO) in Kampala, Uganda, and subsequently organizing the PPM health project with teachers and students in Nairobi, Kenya. DASH is excited to be able to share Jonathan’s experiences with student engagement from across the globe, his experiences show that when we put students at the center of their health and learning the results can be extraordinary!
The Kayole Health Participatory Photo Mapping Project (PPM) was a pilot study that looked to engage students of Kayole, an underprivileged community in Nairobi, Kenya, with assessing their school and community environments for health and well-being. This project could then further develop student-led community development initiatives based upon their research findings. The method of engagement, PPM, enabled the students to subjectively and objectively document the health assets and risks in the local community using photography, direct observation, note taking, interviews and focus group discussions. Part I of this two-part series looks into how the research process unfolded and some of the key findings from the pilot study.
After six months of preliminary research, reflection and organizing for the Kayole Health Participatory Photo-Mapping (PPM) project with my friend and partner, Charles Olupot, the day for Workshop 1 had finally arrived. I knew we had a great group of students and teachers supporting this project. It was clear that they all felt it was something important and needed by their community, and I was honoured to be a part of that.
Before heading out into the community to begin the photo-mapping research, a discussion was facilitated with the student participants to brainstorm the community health issues they wanted to explore. Each student had an opportunity to speak, and the following were the preliminary community health issues they mentioned:
- Garbage collection
- Health care services
- Slums/ living conditions
- Security/ safety
- Status of the roads
We broke up into three groups; two groups of three and one group of four. Each student put on their jerseys, both for safety and to indicate they were part of the project, and Charles moved with the letter of permission and stamp of approval from the local government, which enabled us to conduct the study and take pictures throughout the neighbourhood.
The field work went very well. The students were engaged in taking photos for the health themes they identified, and were busily taking notes to describe the site of documentation as well as their thoughts and perceptions. We concluded the first field study after about two and half hours in the community, and the three groups reconvened at the school. We decided that when the photo-mapping research for the whole of Kayole was complete, we’d categorize and present the photos using three broad, cross-cutting themes that, indirectly or directly affect the community health: Social Services (picture), Physical Environment (picture), and Pollution (picture). This would help with targeting future efforts towards advocacy and awareness campaigns.
We concluded Sunday’s workshop with each youth participant coming to the stage to present on their findings and express their thoughts about engaging in the research process. While taking notes on their presentations, I had the opportunity to exercise my listening skills. I’ve come to learn that listening skills are incredibly important for ‘outside’ researchers involved in community development projects. I was able to learn a lot from these students, and develop new insights and perspectives on health issues I’ve always taken for granted. For example, I had assumed that the common perception was that the more plants and greenery in a neighbourhood the better. Coming from Vancouver, I had interpreted a large tree in a neighbourhood with beauty and higher property values. I would think of flowers, fruits and vegetables when I’d think of plants; these are positive things that improve the health and perceived well-being of a community. However, the perception of ‘plants’ in Kayole was entirely different. Instead of being seen as an object of beautification, plants were discussed in relation to health risks for the community. Thick bushes were photographed and documented as hotspots for the cultivation of mosquitoes, a major health concern given the problematic prevalence of malaria. Additionally, the youth indicated that bushy areas with lots of plants in Kayole were also the places you’d be likely to find the drug dealers and drug addicts; hiding within the bushes for cover while engaging in their illegal activities.
Providing the students with an opportunity to express their own perceptions of health in their community environment through photography, writing, focus groups and public speaking was a key objective of the pilot. The project resulted in much success both in terms of student enthusiasm and developing a rich collection of qualitative data. Stay tuned for next week’s Part II to learn how the students are building upon their community research to design exciting health interventions and awareness campaigns in Kayole and beyond!
True North Strong and Free – Spreading Healthy Schools knowledge and support in all parts of the province!
by Daniel Naiman
After a beautiful Canada Day weekend, my work day began on Tuesday July 2nd by boarding a plane to the northernmost destination I have ever traveled to: Dawson Creek BC (And no, this is not where the TV show Dawson’s Creek took place if that’s what you are thinking!). The purpose of this trip was to support a joint learning session between the South Peace School District (SD#59) and members of the Northern Health regional health authority as part of a regional consultation process (a component of the Healthy Schools BC initiative which aims to bring school districts and health authorities together to determine how they can best work together to jointly support student well being).
The joint learning session was a huge success. We opened the day by teaching the group (a total of about 45 administrators and heath authority staff) about the Comprehensive School Health Approach, with some examples and activities to solidify everyone’s knowledge on this whole-school approach. Everyone then broke-off into small groups to undertake an appreciative inquiry to look at what healthy schools activities were currently going on in their region.
For the second half of the day, DASH shared some of the tools, resources, and supports that are available to educators and health partners, such as the Healthy Schools BC Portal. One of our Healthy Schools Network leaders, Lynn Brown, then provided a real life example by presenting on her work creating a “Community of Learners” with her students, and how both school and health authority staff could benefit by using this same process. The day ended with small groups coming together again deciding next steps on how they could best move forward together.
Getting to attend these types of meetings is one of the great perks of being part of the DASH team. Seeing partners from different sectors (health and education in this case) come together for the sole purpose of creating healthy learners and healthy learning environments is an incredible process to be a part of. Also, I get to see such interesting and beautiful parts of this incredible province, like the Mile 0 marker for the Alaskan Highway which we went to go see while in Dawson Creek. Most importantly, I get to meet such special people from across the province and hear about the amazing work they are doing to create a healthy, educated, and engaged population of students across British Columbia.
by Alex Inman
I had the great opportunity to attend the Provincial Health Services Authority’s Healthy Weights Forum on June 21st when BC healthcare professionals discussed healthy weights and weight bias/stigma. This became particularly relevant as both Canadian and American media have been reporting heavily about two news articles related to weight. First was the recent discovery of a possible link between school healthy eating programs and eating disorders found by Dr. Leora Pinhas in Toronto, ON (CBC article here). The second news-making announcement was the recent classification of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association (CBC article here).
Even though healthcare professionals have known for years that weight (i.e. the Body Mass Index or BMI) is not the best indicator of health, our society still equates being thin with being healthy. However, it is just as possible for an overweight individual to be healthier than a normal weight individual, as categorized by the BMI. In actuality, someone’s perceived weight tells us very little about their overall physical, mental, and emotional health. These aspects of health cannot be quantified into a number or onto a scale; they are achieved by a holistic approach to health both at home, at work/school, and in healthcare. Therefore, in my opinion, obesity is not a disease because having a BMI over 30 does not guarantee you are ill. In fact, it doesn’t really mean much at all.
Working at DASH has allowed me to learn more about the Comprehensive School Health (CSH) approach, which is a holistic way of looking at healthy schools. Instead of trying to make healthy changes in schools only by educating children, CSH encourages us to look at other aspects that may be affecting the health of the school community. For example, besides the teaching and learning aspect we need to also consider: the social and physical environment, school policies, and the potential for partnerships and services. Through the healthy eating lens, CSH would inquire how we can encourage students to eat healthier through nutrition education, ensuring the school environment and policy promotes healthy eating behaviours, and looking to the community and surrounding organizations for support. By looking at changing eating behaviours of students through CSH, we’re approaching the issue in a holistic way. The pressure, then, is not entirely on students to ‘be the best’ at eating healthy or ‘getting an A in nutrition’ which may trigger disordered eating in a select few students. With CSH, the whole school community is making the shift to living a healthier lifestyle.
Both of these issues are obviously very complicated and inextricably linked to many aspects of our society and other topics in nutrition, weight, and healthy lifestyles. However, we all need to keep in mind that your weight does not define your worth. Healthy weights, in conclusion, should not be about what you can lose, but what you can gain.
We here at DASH would love to hear about what you think about these stories. Did you already know about the shift in BC from ‘battling obesity’ to ‘promoting healthy weights’? How do you think all of us can continue to encourage health (physically and mentally) to British Columbian students? How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle? Leave a comment below!