It’s been widely said that children are our future, but that said, there are not enough programs working to prepare this generation to make effective change. Organizations like The Prevention Institute based in Oakland offer such trainings for eager youth.
Carolina Guzman and Sandra Viera from The Prevention Institute recently held a training for 22 youth interested in making positive impacts in their community. Their training focused on preventing violence, reforming health, supporting healthy foods and activities, improving environments for health equity, and promoting mental health and well-being.
“It’s really just about making sure that the youth know that they not only have a voice, but they have a right to really speak up about these issues,” Viera said.
The training comprised of different sections, each one provoking thought and dialogue on a specific topic. The first section featured a series of images showing how health was ironically being promoted in an unhealthy way. Examples include an image of a new park with active smokestacks looming in the background, and fast food advertisements aimed at low income consumers. Through the image presentation, Viera asked questions like, “How do we make those healthy changes?” and, “How do we come back in and change things?” She sparked dialogue among the perceptive youth who needed little encouragement to share their ideas and solutions.
The next part was about health and medical care. The presentation stressed that having medical care does not translate to being healthy. The best way to ensure a healthy life is to promote healthy living, not just treatment of illnesses. Guzman, who took over this section, said, “When people say, ‘the problem is diabetes,’ we can say, ‘no, the problem is the environment.’”
The third part of the training broke down a few elements of what they called community health equitable opportunity, which was about living wages, local health and education. They broke this down in three sections: place, healthcare services and people. Each section had a list of points that was intended to leave participating youth thinking about things like parks and open space in their neighborhood, cultural competence in hospitals, even about the customs and norms in their surrounding communities.
Finally, they closed their training with examples of how some communities around the country have made tangible changes in light of the very same workshop they were conducting. “It made me want to clean up!” said Ratha Yoik, a 16-year-old Poly High student. “It showed me how dirty places are and how much influence liquor stores have.”
Has Sornan, one of the organizers of the event, was more interested in having the youth speak out and think about things they could begin improving in the city. His main goal was to facilitate a safe place for the youth to voice their opinions. While he was sitting among the youth, he tried to limit his participation in the engendered conversations, “I wanted them to come up with their own answers, not to agree with whatever I said or to think what they had to say was not valid,” said Sornan. “I would say to them ‘What do you guys see, be honest.’”
Prevention was the main theme of the training, but if things could not be prevented and were already in place, they also gave solutions as to how those things could be changed. By the end of the session, all of the youth seemed eager to get out and share things they learned as well as begin that prevention. “We have this analogy of people coming down a river and drowning and you’re trying to rescue one person at a time instead of looking for what’s making people fall in the first place,” Guzman said. “So if you go up stream and look at the bridge and find out the bridge has a big hole, it is more effective to fix the bridge than to save one person at a time.”