Community champions in action – by Tania Aubeelack
This is Rani and Sasi, two wonderful active community champions who work closely alongside me to reach out and engage with the Tamil worshippers at a temple in Ealing.
Our action plan, still at the beginning stage, consists of volunteering more often at the temple – at least twice a month – to raise awareness of diabetes among a community that I must say truly love their traditional food, drinks and sedentary lifestyle.
We hope that by volunteering regularly we can install a ‘diabetes’ presence where people get to informally talk about what they’ve eaten and how much exercise they’ve taken that day. This is roughly the typical Tamil conversation we have at the stalls we manage. It’s good to get people to talk about it out loud so we can offer up tips and self reflection. We believe this is how we can initiate some behaviour intervention into the Tamil people’s lives.
However, from having been there twice now I can say that it has been a real challenge to get people to come to our stall. I’m still trying to figure out why this is and what we could possibly do as Champions to be more effective in our engagement with them. Nonetheless, Rani and Sasi are really good at shouting at their friends and families to get them to come over. As I don’t speak Tamil myself I tend to pay more attention to people’s reactions, body language, interests as well as focus on their typical behaviour around me, especially when food is being served after the prayers.
The first time that I went to the temple, there were big portion sizes of rice (usual carbs and portion size problem) being served to people. The second time I went there was a wedding and I was shocked by what I was saw. It emphasised the challenge faced when it comes to food. I could see young children – easily under the age 12 and quite chubby – drinking at least two full-fat cokes in front of me adding to some ‘reddish’ food bathing in oil served with other deep-fried traditional food. I felt quite embarrassed being among this food serving session with us, Diabetes UK Champions on one side promoting healthy eating – and on the other side watching behaviour potentially linked to developing the condition. It seemed as if we were invisible.
I believe that this community does not understand what we mean by healthy eating and the relevance of doing it. They need more than ever to be better educated. It needs to be pushed forward more strongly and I surely believe that the temple has a role to play. By changing the type of food served and monitoring the serving portion size this would not only protect their people, but indirectly give them healthier options. If people were taught how to cook healthier options at home, those changes could start to happen at a family level.
It seems as if our engagement approach at the temple could be effective by giving out simple flyers in Tamil, talks, banners, posters, practical easy cooking methods and shopping items swaps to cook traditional typical ‘Tamilian’ dishes in a healthier way. As we are still at the beginning of our journey, things are still building-up and as Champions we can always learn from what works and what doesn’t.
We definitely need a larger army of active Tamil Champions to expand the plan and raise the voice of prevention and education to achieve what we feel could be a really effective behaviour change in this Tamil community. We as Champions have a big role to play in this journey.