Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Newspaper Article

The following press release was written by Elisa, the angel.

To: Samoa Observer


Peace Corps and National Health Services lead health seminars

Seven villages in rural Savaii are moving toward healthier lifestyles. Savaii Peace Corps Volunteers and nurses of the National Health Services (NHS) conducted Diabetes, Hypertension, and Obesity Awareness Seminars in the vilages of Tufutafoe, Falealupo, Samauga, Safotu, Fatuvalu, Sili and Iva throughout the month of June.

“Many thanks to the Peace Corps volunteer group for their contribution to our Diabetes, Hypertension, and Obesity Awareness Seminars in the community for the last three weeks. Without their support, many people wouldn’t be aware of how these diseases affect their health in their daily lives,” said Fa’avaoa Gaono Taulapapa, Clinical Nurse Consultant at Safotu District Hospital.

The program included a one-act play, an educational and interactive seminar, led by Peace Corps volunteer Jim Metz and NHS nurses, on the topic of healthful living. Particularly, the talks focused on causes and consequences of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and practical tips on weight loss and leading an overall healthy lifestyle.

“Our message has been that there is a strong correlation between obesity and diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The more weight a person has, the more likely they are to have one or more of such diseases,” Metz said.

“We used several methods to convey this message, such as: an entertaining skit, weight-adding demonstrations, group discussions, and we have encouraged participants to compete in a weight loss contest over the next eight weeks,” Metz added.

The seminars concluded with diabetes and hypertension screenings by the NHS nurses, and body-mass index (BMI) calculations by PCVs. Seminar participants were each given an index card with their height and weight and their weight goal for eight weeks from the day of the screening. Participants who reached their weight goal by the end of eight weeks will receive a prize.

Over 300 people participated in the seminars, plus the school bodies of Tufutafoe and Sili Primary Schools.

The Peace Corps – NHS partnership began in June 2009 as a coordinated effort to reduce obesity levels and related noncommunicable diseases and to promote NHS health programs in rural Savaii. Nick Shuraleff, Ph.D., a Peace Corps volunteer based in Iva (2007—2009) and Naifoua Asiata, Principle Head Nurse in Savaii, initiated the partnership that has developed programs such as the recent health seminars.

Shuraleff worked with community nurses in organizing diabetes and hypertension screenings for villages throughout Savaii, as well as a health fair at the Salelologa Market in June 2009.

Shuraleff also secured funding from the New Zealand High Commission to purchase 12 bathroom scales, which were distributed to Savaii villages that had a Peace Corps volunteer. The scales were then presented to village groups such as women’s committees and schools for the purpose of monitoring weight.

During the course of last month’s seminar tour, villages that did not previously receive a scale, were presented with one at the end of the seminar. Participating communities also received Samoan-language health awareness posters from NHS.

Several of the volunteers who worked with Shuraleff have continued the work he began. Metz contacted doctors and suppliers in the United States and had blood pressure meters and sphygmomanometers donated to hospitals in Savaii.

Laura Hanks, a volunteer based in Tafatafa (2006—2008), donated funds raised in her home state of Virginia. Those funds were used to purchase glucose meters and strips that were also given to local hospitals and used for the health seminar screenings.

“We greatly appreciate their help in obtaining testing equipment which is very expensive and in short supply,” said Ms. Taulapapa of Safotu District Hospital.

Metz stressed the importance of the cooperation of PCVs with NHS nurses.

“Thanks to the partnership between Peace Corps and nurses from the NHS, we were able to provide people with information that will help them make better choices about their diet and exercise,” Metz said

“I want to extend my deepest thanks to the National Health Service, especially to the field nurses in Savaii who joined us on this mission. They do this kind of work everyday and are to be commended for their perseverance,” Metz added.

Conclusion and Follow up

Show’s over folks. We have entertained and educated over 300 people on the effects of obesity and how it can lead to life-threatening diseases. The nurses assisted in the educating and performed the diabetes and hypertension check-ups. In attendance were men, women, and children of all ages.

Over the next eight weeks we volunteers will be observing our villages to see how the information is used. In August we will return to these seven villages to reweigh the participants and have another discussion as to what worked and what did not. We will also be awarding the winners with the lavalavas.

Two days ago I woke up early to catch a bus and saw one of my larger friends in the village going for a walk and she was sweating up a storm. It brought a smile to my face to see her out there doing it by herself. That shows her willingness to become healthier and she is doing it on her own account. Semisi and Sieni have already heard positive feedback and people are weighing themselves weekly.

Let’s hope for more examples like above. Thanks to everyone who assisted with this project, especially the nurses from the National Health Services and the Ministry of Health for supporting and helping with the project.

Thanks again to the donors:

-The Homedics Corporation in the United States for the blood pressure testing equipment

-Laura Hanks and friends for funding the glucose meters/strips and stethoscopes

-American Pharmacist Aron McRenolyds and Lynne Metz for the blood pressure monitors and sphygmomanometers

-New Zealand High Commission for funding the screen printing project to make the lavalavas

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sili #7

Sili, which means the “best” in Samoan, will be the village of our final seminar. In that case let’s say that we saved the best for last. We performed twice today. The students from the primary school were right on time and we didn’t want to keep them out of school for too long. The rest of the village wouldn’t show up until 10:45 so it was good that we didn’t wait.

After the kids went back to school we were fed breakfast which included almost any kind of fruit you could imagine. Shortly thereafter the nurses arrived and it was showtime. Today was an oscar winning performance and the crowd really enjoyed it.

The rest of the program went accordingly and we even raised a few more laughs when explaining the weight loss competition. One of the women was very interested in what the prize is for losing the weight. Instead of being direct with her, I thought I’d have some fun with her. I told her that Leni would be her slave for a month if she lost the weight. Leni, the best wingman a guy could ask for.

It has been an absolute pleasure implementing this project with my fellow volunteers. We’ve had our share of ups and downs over the past three weeks but due to perseverance and lots of kava we have completed the seminars.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Iva #6

Today we make the trip to Iva, the village where this project first evolved. It was in this Savai’i metropolis where Niko made obesity, diabetes, and hypertension awareness his primary mission in his Peace Corps service. The village mayor, who learned he had diabetes during Niko’s stay, would help organize the seminar. He did a great job in getting the men/chiefs to come, but due to some miscommunication the women thought that we were coming tomorrow. As a result only a few females were in attendance.

Pictured above is A.J., who teaches at a local secondary school. Thanks to him we were able to get the skit recorded.

The chiefs had a lot of questions.

For example one man asked, “Let’s say I put 4 spoonfuls of sugar in my tea, and then put 4 spoonfuls of salt in my soup. Would that be considered a balanced diet?”

Luckily I didn’t need any assistance to answer that question. I told him that 1 spoon of each is still balanced and is better for you.

In addition to screening for diabetes and hypertension, the nurses are also providing swine flu shots. Pictured below is local nurse Leaso, who has just injected a local girl with the vaccine.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fatuvalu #5

The week ended with a great showing from the small village of Fatuvalu. Per capita, this had to of been our best showing thus far. Enjoy these pics from today’s show.

The nurses from the Samoa National Health Service (NHS) are to be commended on their work. As volunteers we are doing these seminars a mere seven times. The nurses are out in the communities at least 5 days a week performing different types of medical services; home visits to pregnant mothers, health talks for the prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and treatment of these same sicknesses.

It’s been a long week and we are ready for a break. We only have two more to go and want to finish strong. Next week we travel to Iva where this project all started and finish up in Sili.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Safotu #4

We had a great turnout in Safotu. Rain was once again a factor but that didn’t stop people from coming. Most of the crowd showed up early so to entertain them Leni busted out his best dance moves.

When the nurses arrived we started the show. I made a crucial mistake at the beginning of the program. I forgot to have one of the men say a prayer to begin the activities. An opening prayer is essential in Samoa anytime there is a meeting or program of this nature. Unfortunately no one stopped me before I was finished speaking but during a break one of the nurses helped me realize my mistake in the nicest way possible.

We made one change to the program today. Instead of doing the skit first we decided to wait until everyone had been screened for diabetes and hypertension. The reason for this was so the participants wouldn’t have to wait as long to eat. This is again due to the fact that you shouldn’t eat before checking blood sugar levels.

This turned out to be a senseless change and I think I speak for the whole cast when I say we were dead tired when it was time to start the skit. Our reason for postponing it due to the participants desire to eat was a non-effective either. It is very important in Samoan culture to make sure the guests (in this case ourselves and the nurses) are fed before anyone else can eat.

The highlight of this particular seminar was the part where we ask the audience for tips on adjusting lifestyle habits. Leni and I finally devised a way of getting the audience to participate as well as us being able to provide our suggestions.

The list below shows our five main points and the audience/nurses/volunteers’ suggestions for how they can change their habits.

5 Main Points


Reduce fats and oils in your diet

Eat more fish and chicken and less mutton and salted beef.

Boil foods instead of frying them.

Remove fatty parts of beef, pork, and chicken skin. Drain oils from fried foods.

Reduce sugars in your diet as well as replace “bad” or “processed” sugars with “good” or “natural” sugars.

Drink a coconut instead of a soda.

When you need that sugar fix, eat local fruits such as papaya, mangoes, and bananas instead of candy and cookies.

Offer sugar on the side as opposed to adding it to the tea pot. This will give people a choice.

Eat balanced meals

Start a garden

Add vegetables to soups

On some days drink cocoa, and on other days drink orange flavored tea

Eat Samoan Food

Add coconut cream to cocoa instead of sugar

Eat local fruits instead of imported fruits

Stop buying imported meats that are canned and frozen. If there is no demand, there is no supply.

Increase physical activity

Go for walks in the mornings and evenings

Stop using buses and cars for short transport and use your legs.

Start a garden

The team worked well today as the participants just seemed to flow in and out without waiting or being rushed. Here are some more pictures that show everybody hard at work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Samauga #3

Our second week of seminars began in Samauga. It was a cool and rainy morning, or in other words, a perfect time to stay home and sleep. This raised concerns due to other experiences when trying to gather groups of people on rainy days. The first people to show up were the high chief of the village and the pastor. This brought comfort to my concerns, because if these guys come, the flock will soon follow.

Fa’avaoa, Valelia, Mariane, Peleupu, and Tapu, the nurses from the Safotu District Hospital, will be working with us this week. Fa’avaoa, the nurse manager, has played an essential role in helping us plan these seminars. With that in mind it is a special pleasure to work with her this week.

The seminar started with our best performance yet. Everybody was spot on with their lines and the crowd roared with laughter.

The picture below is from the funeral in scene one. Elisa, the angel, has made an appearance from heaven and brought the family a weight scale, or a sign from god to change the families eating habits. Semisi, who is lying down, has just died from diabetes as Sieni, his widow, looks on.

We also had some help from the audience during the rice suit demonstration. Fulisia, pictured below, has since told me that she will keep the weight off if this is what it feels like.

The informational session was very similar to that of Falealupo. The audience was very engaged, most notably the chief pictured below, who had many concerns and questions regarding his diet. Fa’avaoa, pictured below with Leni and myself, did great job in facilitating and addressing those concerns.

During the final segment where we explain the weight loss contest I asked the audience if there were any questions or concerns. The high chief raised his hand and let his concern be known. He spoke on behalf of the village and expressed that he was hungry. It had been a long morning so I quickly wrapped it up and let the nurses begin the screenings.

Strong winds and heavy rains continued throughout the screenings but we were still able to see almost 70 people. Papaya and coconut was provided by the nurses to people after they had their blood sugar checked for diabetes. It is very important for obtaining accurate results that one does not eat prior to testing their blood sugar. As you can see in the picture below the audience really does enjoy fresh fruit.