How two community champions are making a difference in a Tamil temple – by Tania Aubeelack
It was quite surprising at first to know that there were only two active Tamils Champions – Rani and Sasi – for a large Tamil and South Indian community in Hounslow where Type 2 diabetes is certainly no stranger.
Sasi and I trained together in London and this is how I got involved with her local community and the volunteers she works with. Whilst working closely with Sasi at the SKAT Temple in Ealing and the 2016 Chariot Tamil Festival, my understanding of the Tamil community’s needs and complexity expanded in terms of their culture, festivals, traditions and way of life. After a couple of awareness stall events with Sasi, she finally presented me to an amazing community worker named Rani who was originally behind her decision of sign up to the London Community Champion training in March last year. So grateful to her!
Rani’s drive, leadership and understanding of her community and links to diabetes is priceless
Rani (pictured in the middle with traditional purple dress) is extremely popular and well-known among her Tamil peers because she has been running the Tamil Community Centre (TCC) for 14 years. The TCC is run by volunteers who provides facilities such as free English classes, free dance classes and smoking/alcohol/drugs support services to name a few. Her leadership is undeniable, her drive is so impressive and her understanding of the links between her community and life-long conditions such as diabetes and heart problems is priceless.
By just volunteering alongside her, I was gobsmacked from day one by her ability to lead, engage, gather and rally people behind our stalls, how she always pushes for the right things to happen and how she encourages people to get involve into volunteering to help make a difference in other people’s lives. I consider her as one of my favourite and one of the most passionate Diabetes UK Champion.
Rani and Sasi (right of Rani wearing a red and black top) worked hard to organise a Community Champion training held on 10 to 11 January 2017. Following many discussions and feedback from awareness stalls, we concluded that more needed to be done to educate and spread the right knowledge to one of the most deprived communities living in London. There was no doubt that a majority of worshippers at the Temple and at the Chariot Festival had diabetes as well as many who area at risk of developing the condition due to their large waist and strong family history.
Willing to change but complex issues to overcome
I strongly believe that the Tamils and South Indians are willing to make a change and to listen to lifestyle recommendations, but there are undoubtedly many deep-rooted complex issues that go beyond our scope of manoeuvre. There are a large proportion of Tamils that don’t necessarily understand that diabetes is a metabolic condition, its strong link to lifestyle meaning it can be delayed or prevented; what choices and options they have when it comes to achieving a well self-managed blood glucose level and the importance of attending their GP appointments and picking up their medication. Added to this, we can find more challenging issues such as languages barriers, poverty, stress at work, fear of family members, pride, honour and stereotypes. This is the reality we are faced with.
However, Rani and Sasi believe that a real difference can be made if we tackle ignorance about diabetes by exploiting the willingness to listen and implement action that is evident in many of the middle-aged and young Tamil people. They want to be educated and be part of this movement that can help to prevent many from suffering life-threatening complications and going through the pain of a relative’s death. The training organised build up a real workforce of Champions that will engage and build bridges with the Tamil and South Indian people especially those who want to change. This was a great initiative that now sees two Tamils Champions becoming a true Champions team of 12 members.
Overall, the training went very well with the help of two fantastic Diabetes UK Ambassadors Krishna and Jasmin, but ended with the very sad news that one man who used to volunteer at the TCC died from a heart attack at the age of 54 whilst going to work leaving his wife and two teenagers behind. He had Type 2 diabetes. Tamil Champions, it’s now time to take action!