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Vol. 15 No. 2 - April 2009

HOPE Initiative stimulates young minds on health and environment

By: Gourdas Choudhuri

It has become evident in recent years that health and environment should be our major concerns if our planet and humanity have to survive and prosper. We continue to burn fuel recklessly, generate tons of CO2, clear forests for biofuels and cattle, use chemical toxins in everyday life, and pollute our rivers. The price we pay are the polluted air and water we breathe and drink, warming of the globe with its environmental changes, increased frequency of diseases such as diabetes and blood pressure, and the steep steady rise in a variety of cancers. 

While most adults read about these issues in magazines and newspapers and occasionally discuss them over dinner, their ways and attitudes have not shown much change. Students, on the other hand, constitute 40% of the population, have fresher minds, are more receptive to new ideas and may pick up the attitudes that may keep them and the world healthy, if, and only if, they are sounded in time. HOPE Initiative therefore, aims at creating awareness on health and environment related issues in students and try to reach out to the community through the school-to-community approach. Students, being the torch bearers of the next generation, are more likely to take the right decisions to protect our planet than the elders of today.

It all started in November 2004 in Lucknow with a small group of doctors, educationists and philanthropists forming a group to achieve this goal. With the acronym for Health Oriented Programs and Education, HOPE Initiative was born (www.hope.org.in). Over the years it has grown from a small initiative working in around 30 urban schools in Lucknow to a stage when it is targeting 1000 schools across 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh by 2010.

HOPE Initiative focuses on 10 health related topics which it feels, every young citizen should be aware of: lifestyle related diseases, environment, fast food and obesity, sanitation and hygiene, healthy Holi and safe Diwali, Hepatitis B, road traffic accidents, examination stress and TAD (tobacco, alcohol and drugs).

Safe and colourful festival ‘Holi'

The festival of colours brings with it lots of joy and fun every year. The vibrant colours and sweets that form an integral part of this festival, also often bring with them health hazards when toxic chemicals are used or while binging on excessive fatty sweets. HOPE Initiative has been drawing the attention of students to the harmful effects of toxic chemical colours that often cause harm to eyes, skin and kidneys, and urging their replacement with soothing herbal colours. Our message for Eco Holi is "Play Holi Safely". Posters carrying these messages are put up on notice board of schools a few days before HOLI. This year these posters were displayed in 75 schools of Lucknow, Sitapur, Rae Bareli and Barabanki. Attention of children is drawn not only to the toxic effects of chemical colours to the individual’s body but to the environment as well, as they do not wash away easily, get mixed in drains and sewage systems and pollute water bodies and the soil. The spirit of Holi therefore needs to be restored by making it safer and healthier too. Hope Initiative has been fortunate enough to get the desired support from the school authorities in spreading awareness.

Healthy Traditional Snacks

Gorging on “gujias” (a preparation of sweet) is a part of Holi celebrations, but with India becoming the Diabetic capital of the world and 10% of our school children being obese, can they be made less greasy and less fattening? A special pre-Holi cooking session organized in SGPGI for mothers and wives had  Mrs Smitha Singh, a dietician from Nutrionvista, give tips on how to prepare healthier gujias and snacks!

Safe and Happy Diwali - The Eco-friendly way

Diwali is another important national festival to celebrate the victory of good over evil but unfortunately during this time the environment has to pay for our festivities. The celebration style has imposed many negative effects on the environment resulting into excessive air pollution, noise pollution, soil pollution, and excessive power consumption. 

Besides these environmental effects the modern style of celebrating Diwali also leads to various health hazards. These include hearing loss, high blood pressure, sleeping disturbances, Asthma, headache, eye related problems etc.

To make the Diwali celebrations eco-friendly, Hope organized poster-making competition in some of the schools in Lucknow, Sitapur and Rae Bareli by involving the children to come up and share their views about protecting the environment during the celebration and also reducing the health hazards associated with the festivities. In 70 schools of Lucknow, Sitapur and Raebareli the posters on Safe and Happy Diwali were put up for the school children and the staff. It imparted information on health hazards associated with bursting of crackers and its impact on environment. It also contained messages regarding safety precautions for safe Diwali.

To spread a word for celebrating Diwali in a healthy way, by way of propagating healthy food   habits, a stall was put up in the Diwali mela organized on the eve of Diwali at the SGPGI campus. The mela was organized for the SGPGI employees and their families. This was to practically demonstrate ways of preparing low calorie food. The students of Hotel Management Institute prepared snacks with slight variation to make them more healthy and tasty. This was to inculcate a habit of consuming and preparing low calorie food during the festival season to avoid health problems.

Sanitation & Hygiene - Health and Environmental Concern

Sanitation and hygiene is another major health concern. There are several govt. programs running to address these problems but still there is lot that needs to be done. Hope Initiative with the intention to spread the message for adopting healthy practices for a healthy living, took an initiative to conduct poster making competition and to organize lectures and Interactive sessions with students for creating awareness about the issue. The programs aimed to inculcate healthy sanitation habits among school children and their families and propagate the adverse effect of unhealthy sanitation practices on the environment and the ways of improving the sanitary habits and its impact on overall wellbeing.  

World Health Day 2008 & Global Warming

On the Occasion of the World Health Day 2008, the issue of Global warming was addressed in the programmes. Hope conducted programs in various schools of Lucknow to propagate the, impact of Global warming on the health. This was a concern raised by WHO for 2008, HOPE took the issue to students for their views through debates and extempore competitions organized in schools. The students did research on the topics such as “Global environmental change is a greater concern for health today than life style related disorders” and “Tackling Global warming: role of students” and came up with facts and figures that were thought provoking.  Depleting natural resources pose potential hazards for the society and causes climatic change and Global warming, it is important to involve and mobilize children for taking steps in their own way to protect the environment. On the occasion of the World Earth Day HOPE showed the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore which is all about the climate change and its overall impact on the environment. Hope Initiative has also been instrumental in motivating school children for planting trees in and around their surroundings. During the World ecology week a plantation drive was organized for the school children.

General Health & the Environment Around

Associating environmental degradation with health will surely draw the attention of masses towards this burning issue, and by creating awareness, the citizens can be mobilized to join in wholeheartedly in this movement, for making the society a healthier and better place to live in.

Creating a generation with positive patterns

‘HOPE Initiative’ believes that by creating awareness amongst school children we can bring about change in their attitude and build a healthy society by addressing the relevant issues which have impact on our well being.


Professor & Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow-226014, India
E-mail: gourdas@satyam.net.in

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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