One really fun project I’ve gotten myself into is leading health talks a secondary schools. Most recently I talked about preventative medicine with some high schoolers. My talk was only 40 minutes- not enough for a topic this broad in my opinion, then again, I could talk for hours and hours about this as there are so many prevention techniques and lifestyle implementations that protect health. Mainly we discussed ways to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being. The most basic umbrella subtopics were nutrition, exercise, and sexual health. Again = 40 minutes is NOT ENOUGH. But hey, we work with what we’re given. Plus I think my obsessive rambling about health and wellness could possibly just confuse the kids if I’m given too much floor time 😛
Nutrition- As much as I just love the sound of my own voice (not really), I encouraged active participation to make the time more interactive, and also to gauge the students’ understanding of certain things and to uncover any possible myths or misinterpretations about diet and nutrition. This school in particular is remarkable because they have a huge garden where the students and staff grow all their own vegetables and some fruits, and the cooks pull straight from the garden to cook lunch everyday. So I didn’t feel very compelled to lecture about healthy eating because I already knew these students probably maintain a healthier diet than most. But we did touch on the importance of adequate water consumption, appropriate fueling for different times of the day, etc. One student brought up the topic of avoiding saturated fats and oils, which led perfectly into talking about raw food. I saw some pretty shocked faces in the crowd when I suggested eating as many things raw as possible- like spinach, broccoli and carrots. South Africa has some wonderful staple dishes with a base of spinach or carrots, but the part I find troubling is that the cooking process involves a ton of oils and salt. So although the end result is a delicious vegetable dish- the vegetables themselves have been cooked for so long and with so much oil and salt that I fail to see its nutritional value.
Exercise- Physical Education in schools has been on the decline for quite some time now. Being a Kinesiologist, I really want to rant on and on about this, but I’ll spare you. At this school the students have ‘sports day’ which is 1 hour of sports time on Wednesday afternoons only. There is no other playtime or physical education offered in the curriculum. When I asked how the students felt about this- so many hands shot up in the air to say they wanted more time, it’s not enough, they want sports time everyday, etc. Clearly the students have the desire to engage in more physical activity, but secondary schools in South Africa have such rigorous school schedules- the students attend from 7:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, AND on Saturdays until 1pm. WHAT. THIS IS CRAZY. I’m in no position to get the Department of Education to redefine their national curriculum or to make the school cut out its math class to make time for P.E., so all I can do is encourage the students to create time in their lives dedicated to exercise. When I asked what types of physical activity they like, a bunch of the boys said things like push-ups and sit-ups. I told them I’ll come back and facilitate some push-up contests 😉 They were really stoked about this.
Sexual health- I really really really wish I had a whole day to talk about this, especially with the graduating class to prepare them for the madness of college life, but alas, time was short. I did however bring boxes of several hundred male and female condoms so we could have 1 big group demonstration! Just imagine 150 high schoolers all giggling in a group waving condoms around. It was hilarious. I’ve done a lot of one on one work with many of these students so I knew several of them were knowledgable on proper condom use and asked some volunteers to come in front of the group to lead demonstrations. Under my guidance, they did very well! A few minor mistakes in steps of the process, but I was really proud to see the retention of the skill. I told them a really funny story about how in high school my gym teacher would always give us a short health talk on Friday afternoons just before school let out for the weekend. And by ‘health talk’ I mean he taught us what abstinence means and when the afternoon bell rang he would shout out “What’s the keyword?!?” And we’d all have to shout back “ABSTINENCE!” before leaving. And that was the extent of our sex ed in gym class. Not quite the comprehensive sexual education that high schoolers need. They all laughed and thought this was hilarious.
For these Friday health talks I always have at least one South African counterpart with me as to promote sustainability, and I try to make it as fun as possible. Whether it be playing with condoms or giving out star stickers, the students seem really receptive to talking about health issues and I just love getting to answer all their questions. It’s really taboo in South African culture for parents and teachers to talk to their children about sex, so I’m happy to fill that role and be the person they can turn to in confidence for advice and support.
What are you doing to protect your body and health? What practices can you adopt to help prevent illness and disease? How can we learn to live at an optimum level of wellness?
When I asked what take away messages the students got from talking about Preventative Medicine they said:
1. Drink lots of water
2. Eat produce raw
3. Find an exercise you love and do it daily
I’d say this was a successful day 🙂
Peace Corps, South Africa