WITH a population of about 874,000 spread across Fiji, it is hard to engage all Fijians on the topic of health. However, with a mounting NCD crisis announced in the news last week, this is a topic that Fijians can no longer ignore.
You hear it on the radio and on TV, the newspapers report weekly on the health of the nation, all of this ensures that health is top of the mind. We all know about the issues, but what are we doing about the solution?
In the Navutu/Nasoata settlements, onthe outskirts of Lautoka City in the West, one team of health workers have found an engaging way to deliver crucial health education and be part of the solution.
After observing that the clinic health sessions they were providing were failing to interest their audience, Peace Corps volunteer Ashley Utter came up with an idea to better engage their audience and motivate them to make a change. Together with the zone nurse, Archana Gounder and dietitians Filomena Gavidi and Elizabeth Pau'u, the Healthy Living Workshop was created. The aim was simple; empower the community and provide a better platform for behaviour change.
The Navutu/Nasoata settlements are among the more vulnerable when it comes to health, with many malnourished children cases and a high prevalence of NCDs an issue. This is also a community that is working together for improvement, a newly-established women's group and projects for cleaning and rebuilding their settlements were signs of this desire. This was the perfect community to engage in the workshop.
With initial interest and excitement built through visits to the settlement to explain the idea, the Healthy Living Workshop took place over six weeks, with two-hour classes conducted every Wednesday.
Each session focused on a particular health topic and included a healthy cooking demonstration where women from the settlement could participate and learn to cook using healthy, local and affordable ingredients.
Health topics ranged from NCD education, diet and how food affects our bodies, physical activity and gardening to breast/infant feeding and sanitation. Health screenings were also conducted as part of the program and those who graduated were given a show bag with all the recipes they had learnt, seeds for planting, health brochures and more.
The response to these practical workshops was wonderful, 25 women graduated after having attended at least four of the six sessions and many classes even had 30 to 35 women present, creating a fun and enthusiastic atmosphere where they could put their newly-discovered skills into practice. Many were excited to go home and cook the dishes for their family, so that they too would benefit from this workshop.
You may not hear about these successful grassroots initiatives often, but they are happening and they are creating real change in the very places that need them most. This change is made possible through the hard work of motivated people and by empowering communities to commit to the change and stick with it.
It may be a small sample compared to the thousands a television ad reaches, but where an ad registers in people's minds for perhaps a millisecond, dedicated community-based activities and workshops can create change that lasts a lifetime in the minds and actions of its participants.
* Mia Cusack is the digital communications officer with the Ministry of Health.