French health network reaches out to communities

French health network reaches out to communities
Finn Johnson shows off his pedometer provided by the Fort Smith Francophone Association.Photo: Mathieu Doucet.

The NWT French-language Health Services Network (Santé TNO) is carrying out initiatives to promote healthy eating, exercise and disease prevention in classrooms and communities across the territory, and the Francophone Associations are doing their part to make sure it happens.

Last week in Fort Smith, French immersion classes were presented with their own French-language healthy food guides with recipes, nutritious snacks and pedometers to encourage them to eat well and stay active.

“Whether it be in French or English, health and well-being are just essential things we have to take care of,” said Mathieu Doucet, acting development officer with the Fort Smith Francophone Association. “Regardless of who takes advantage of our resources, it’s for everybody.”

The Fort Smith grade 4-6 French students have been challenged to walk 3,000 steps per day – the daily requirement for healthy activity – using their new pedometers.

“We at the association value the importance of education towards healthier lifestyles,” said Doucet, noting that well-being affects individuals and society as a whole. “When it comes down to it, there’s not much you can do if you’re not healthy. You can’t learn, you can’t do anything.”

Similar activities are taking place in other communities throughout the territory. In Yellowknife, for example, Santé TNO has teamed up with Jeunesse TNO (NWT Youth Committee) to teach teens how to cook simple, but healthy, meals.

“They can get what they want quickly, but in a healthy way,” said Jean de Dieu Tuyishime, coordinator of Santé TNO.

They also offer a program called Aliment’action (food action), which leads similar healthy eating programs in schools and preschools. As well, the Yellowknife Francophone Association hosts a weekly walking club.

In Hay River, the Francophone Association offers passes to families to spend time in the gym or pool and takes people on fishing trips, while in Inuvik youth aged 10-14 have an outdoor activity program to get them out of the house and away from the TV.

Communities across the territory offer French sexual health resources in high schools and many offer French First Aid courses for students and teachers.

“Every community is different,” said Tuyishime. “It’s what they can find in their area that can motivate them to be healthy and eat healthy.”

Santé TNO is also engaged in a condom drop campaign at bars across the territory. Condoms, attached to sexual health information, are left in both men’s and women’s washrooms in participating bars and community centres in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik. Tuyishime said the campaign has been very successful.

“In Yellowknife, we are going through 900 condoms per week,” he said. “It’s very popular. At first people were shy to take the condoms, but now they’re getting to know that they’re there and asking for more sometimes.”

Tuyishime said Santé TNO’s objectives are part public awareness and part advocacy. As a member of a Canadian network of Francophone health networks, the organization works with health practitioners, government employees and academic institutions to make sure health services for people limited in the English language are at their highest quality possible.

Work on signage in health centres, French-language resources like brochures and ads and language workshops for health care providers is ongoing with Health and Social Services authorities.

Although primarily French-language, Tuyishime said Santé TNO’s resources are for everybody, all year round.

“We are here for everybody, but we say that we’re mainly here for minorities who are not necessarily fluent in English, including Aboriginal languages and French,” said Tuyishime. “Here I am talking about Francophones, but there are also other people who can fall into this category.”

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