We learned so much!

The WEA’s Harjinder Doran is manager of Tandrusti, a health education programme for BAME communities in the West Midlands. She explains how the Wellcome Trust brought the thrill of learning science to her students. 

It was empowerment. They could go home and tell their grandchildren: Look at me. I've learned science!

Tandrusti means ‘good health’ in all of the South Asian languages. Active across the West Midlands, we’re a physical activity and health education programme that has supported black and minority ethnic members of the community since 2001 with funding from the Office of Public Health. We’re all about tackling health inequalities and ensuring that people consult and access proper services. Our focus is on preventative health in the community, helping people to learn new skills and empowering active citizens to become local agents of change. We also help with regional and national research, as it’s notoriously difficult to engage members of minority groups into any sort of programmes.

During the pandemic, our ‘COVID champions’ have been very busy helping to disseminate information and ensuring that the BAME voice is represented in public health. Often, that means picking up the phone and making sure the message on social distancing or vaccinations has got through. For example, when the Muslim Council announced that the Pfizer vaccine was halal for Muslim communities, we were able to cascade that message to about 450 people within half an hour. 

We managed six weeks of classes with the Wellcome Trust funding before lockdown. The course complemented what we do on health education, primarily with older women who never had opportunities for education as children, but who bring a huge amount of enthusiasm and intelligence too. 

We drilled down into the science of health. What’s really going on with nutrition and healthy eating? What are the scientific properties of trans fats, the link between high sodium, sugar and fat, and the role of water in the body? How does meditation affect the brain? What is the relationship between the pituitary and pineal glands and how they feed into the hypothalamus? What’s the difference between breathing and respiration? What causes aging of the heart and arteries? 

We were able to use the money to dive deeper into the physiology and science of the wellbeing classes that we were already offering. This may sound trivial, but the Wellcome Trust money really helped land the fact we were learning science. That’s actually quite exciting when you were brought up to believe science was meant for other people. Everybody giggled when we said they were all amateur scientists. One of the feedback was: “We learned so much. Oh, my God, it was even science!” 

We did plenty of practical exercises too, and there was a childlike wonder in trying all of this stuff for the first time.

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