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Building stronger communities: happiness, health and wellbeing

When medical students from the Western Clinical School carried out health screenings in the local community in 2012, they discovered a high percentage of residents in the west demonstrated poor health. 

The chronic disease risk factors amongst the African communities were identified to be above the national average in Melbourne’s west in areas of probable type-2 diabetes, rates of overweight and obesity and poor sleep behaviours. Lifestyle diseases including cardiovascular disease and diabetes were high. 

In response to these figures, a new program aiming to improve the health and wellbeing of African families has been established at Sunshine Harvester Primary School in Melbourne’s west. A government school with a population of around 425, Sunshine Harvester Primary School is made up of a culturally diverse group of students, with around 70% of students speaking English as an Alternative Language (AEL). Many students and their families are recently arrived refugees with little understanding of the relationship between nutrition, healthy eating and wellbeing.
 
Led by Western Melbourne Regional Development Australia Committee (WMRDA), key organisations including the University of Melbourne, Brimbank Council, Western Region Health Centre and the Macedon Ranges and North Western Melbourne Medicare Local have partnered with the school to work with this community to understand their health needs. Through a community engagement and health promotion framework, a culturally appropriate pilot program will be developed that focuses on healthy eating, nutrition and exercise. It is envisaged that the model developed from this pilot project will be rolled out across other communities in Melbourne’s west. 
 
Principal of Sunshine Harvester Primary School, Mr Paul Griffin, says the program is a positive way to improve health and wellbeing for the school community. 
 
“A purpose built kitchen and community garden is the centerpiece of the program that will engage children and their parents. The primary school is a key aspect of community life for our families and we are very happy to be a part of such a program,” he said.
 
A member of the community involved in the initiative generously donated the ‘community kitchen’ to the school. The donor, Mr Paul Hickman from Sydney-based company Enoch Interactive, said he hoped children and their families will use the kitchen to cook together and learn about nutrition and healthy eating. 
 
To mark the launch of the project and to celebrate the installation of the new kitchen, a community health and wellbeing day was held at the school. The day was a resounding success, including a student art exhibition focusing on healthy eating, vegetable garden planting and a performance by the Victoria Police Pipe and Drumming band. Medical students from the University’s Western Clinical School carried out health screenings at the school on the day, conducting over 40 confidential screenings on members of the school community. 
 
Children enjoyed fruit and vegetables donated by SecondBite, a jumping castle and helped members of the local police plant vegetable seedlings in the community garden. 
 
At the conclusion of the event, Mr Griffin was presented with a plaque on behalf of Mr Hickman, to be installed in the kitchen once fit-out has been completed. 
 
The plaque read: “This kitchen was generously donated in the hope that its use promotes happiness, health and wellbeing to all in the community at Sunshine Harvester Primary School.”