It was last Friday, August 26, and her face beamed with pride as she stood between Schweitzer Fellow Ricardo Sedan and Kennedy Center Executive Director Kate McDonough to accept her graduation certificate.
“I learned,” she said in Spanish, “to rinse canned beans with water before using them, to remove the extra salt.”
Her classmates—nine other low-income, Spanish-speaking women living in Charlestown, MA—clapped and cheered as she accepted a certificate stating that she had completed Proyecto ¡Salud! and committed herself to living a healthy life.
It was a far cry from the first Salud! session—when, Sedan says, “I was nervous that nobody would show up!”
When he first began to conceptualize and implement Proyecto ¡Salud!—a 10-week, bilingual, interactive health education program held at the Kennedy Center in conjunction with the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center— the bilingual MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing student drew on his time spent as a medical interpreter at the HealthCare Center. He knew that Spanish-speaking residents of Charlestown’s housing projects faced numerous barriers to good health—including lack of access to affordable, fresh food and limited Spanish-language nutrition, cooking, and exercise resources.
So as one of this year’s 25 Boston Schweitzer Fellows, Sedan designed a bilingual program focused on making health education highly accessible—and highly interactive. On Mondays and Thursdays, he held a class at the Kennedy Center that included a healthy cooking lesson; a health education lesson or guest speaker on topics including diabetes prevention and management, blood pressure, stress management, and domestic violence; and at least a half-hour of physical activity.
“I tried to teach them ways of exercising that they could do easily on their own,” Sedan says. “One guest came to teach tai chi and chair yoga, and my classmate Norma gave merengue lessons.” Additionally, on Tuesdays, Sedan led a walking club and field trips—to farmers’ markets, to the grocery store, to a health fair, and to the local YMCA (where gym membership is affordable and subsidized).
All along the way, he worked to earn the women’s trust—constantly taking their feedback into account, and calling each of them before every class to remind them about the day’s programming.
His efforts paid off. “Word of mouth is spreading,” he says. “Just in the last couple of classes, we’ve had three new recruits—and there are at least five who want to join in when we start up the program again in the fall.”
As the women laugh, dance, and share in a celebratory lunch that they’ve prepared, Sedan smiles.
“It’s become clear that in addition to the lessons on mindful shopping, and healthy cooking, and other health issues, the women have really valued the chance to connect with each other as friends and as a community,” he says. “ If one of them wasn’t here for a class, another one would get on the phone and call and say, ‘Why aren’t you here? Get over here!’”
Learn more about the Boston Schweitzer Fellows Program (which trains and supports graduate students like Sedan in partnering with community agencies to create and carry out service projects that address unmet health needs) by visiting www.schweitzerfellowship.org/boston.