The Audacity of Hope…Public Health week

The U.S. celebrates initiatives that make people’s lives better during April 1 – 7th national public health week and April 7th is World Health day (celebrated since 1948)!  There are so many issues to ponder over and one to focus on is giving people hope for better communities with less crime, more positivity, better infrastructure, building health literacy and overall wellness.

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Keep areas clean

Before Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. President I read his book “The Audacity of Hope” and years before a book about the community project titled “Streets of Hope” reflecting the community reorganization of a downtrodden area in Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood initiative. It is vital to understand how to motivate people and what community organizing is about — sustained efforts long-term. Reframing everything for positive changes does not mean turning a blind eye, but rethinking community strengths and addressing weaknesses. Understanding this first-hand I am constantly checking in to past efforts started and understand what Prochaska and Diclemente did so much research on years ago, the Stages of Change, a great one to add to our tool kits.

Taking the streets of most parts of Athens one sees many historic areas falling apart, trash, many run-down neoclassical buildings and mainly dirty tagging and more trash everywhere. As I travel to various places, I take photos of people’s work in trying to beautify their neighborhoods, often doing it with their own money and supervision. Change starts here, it starts with us, but we need to also maintain these efforts.

We know from the Broken Windows Theory (criminology article by Wilson & Kelling, 1982) that once one person creates a problematic situation like breaking a window other people soon follow. This can extend to modern ‘trashing’ of cities like the images featured above.  One friend’s motivational speech reminded me about social modeling (Bandura, social psychologist, would be  joyous with this) as her quote rings in my ears “if they can, we can too!” Let’s move away from negative to positive changes, see ‘what works’ in other societies and adapt for our own benefit towards long-term community health. Thus the concept of eudemonia goes beyond traditional wellness to incorporate physical, mental, and spiritual health extending beyond our  ‘selves’ to the larger community and global initiatives for all.

We have the right to:

1) clean cities without trash everywhere (Kondo’s method of cleaning house applied here) and most buildings desecrated by vandals. Respect cities.

2) hope for fellow humans to respect themselves and others by caring and helping each other and their environments.  Getting into positions of power to do away with corrupt politicians or any world self-centered mongul, let’s tell them to “take a hike.”

3) invest in health and focus on prevention — efforts like those by the CDC Foundation are prime examples of innovation and high-impact programs. Whether it’s an effort to combat depression or one to increase awareness of the need for vaccinations, efforts like the recent MIT Hacking event prove worthy of collaborative and volunteer work.

4) build infrastructure towards these goals, and be the change you want!

5) promote personal skills and efforts that have the potential to go global. This includes leadership and public speaking from clubs such as Boys and Girls clubs, Scouts, Lions or Toastmasters International (Toastmasters Greece link), and other similar local efforts reflective of these.

Yes we do, and have the right to the ‘audacity’ of hope!

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Do clean up the trash people (a positive reminder, Athens)

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March onwards… Spring Traditions

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There are many traditional sayings for March, one of the most unpredictable months weather wise of the year!

Best to have a warm March rather than a cold March — “Κάλλιο Μάρτη καρβουνιάρη, παρά Μάρτη καψαλιάρη”. (Καλύτερα κρύο παρά ζέστη)

I hung the bracelet on a tree for the ‘healthy’ swallows (χελιδόνια) to supposedly carry to their nest to protect them from the diseases that may come from other birds traveling to Southern Mediterranean from colder climates. Since it turns out the sick birds avoid the red, thus why people allow these bird nests on their property today.

This cotton woven bracelet traditionally goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome and almost identical traditions exist in many areas in the Balkans including Greece, with similar language names (past blog post on Lent and the Ides of March). It is interesting to me how many of these traditions have survived today and are reflecting cultural health literacy. Perhaps the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions is the one of the best vehicles to spread the value of traditions and medicinal plants, to recreate such medical centers as Asclepius  [Ασκληπιός]  intended (Ancient healing centers in article by Visit Greece).

Πάει ο Μάρτης — March is gone, but Spring is in full bloom quote “April showers bring May flowers”. No surprise, around the world due to extreme rainfall and other natural disasters because with climate change we’ve had several tragedies and more public health community problems. Some of us understand the value of community planning including creating more eco-friendly environments to attract more animals, and keep spaces cooler with less water such as this seaside succulent (cactus like) plant.  Let’s March onwards and think smarter.

Flags and our Community’s Health

 

Flags as symbols used across nations imply “allegiance” to a cause, a country, used to more easily communicate across boundaries seen from afar. A white flag indicates surrender, while we have the sea/ocean ratings using flags and the coveted blue flag as an eco-label to indicate a clean swimmable beach area.

As we are in the age of globalization and people’s struggle (or not) for identity, it seems that flags have positive and negative perceptions.  There is a lot of work put into their design and symbolism. People have both celebrated and lost their lives for the cause their flag’s allegiance represents. Identity is indeed an evolving and necessary part of our personality as well as the people we put our trust in. This includes our family, educators, healthcare providers, politicians. And all these individuals can help our overall community well-being and health literacy. 

This March gave me an opportunity to compare two countries and festivities that involve the showcasing (or choosing not) of the respective country’s flag. Is it relevant to larger community health? Or at least indicative of it? I think so. Let’s start with the two flag images first — one from Dublin, Ireland and the second from a small village in Greece. 

In Dublin we had many festive images and there was a lot of drinking (whiskey and Guinness) for St. Patrick’s day March 17th — see post: Luck o’ the Irish. In Greece a lot of food (supposedly healthier foods like fried cod (called «μπακαλιάρο»)  beets or greens, and the infamous garlic concoction of “skordalia” (σκορδαλιά — see recipe by Alkis!)  and wine or ouzo (similar to zambuco) lots of it…alcohol always in need of temperance.

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Typical March 25th meal of cod (μπακαλιάρο), beets or greens, and the very garlicky “skordalia”

It seems in Dublin flags were everywhere outside and inside like hotel lobbies in bars/pubs and restaurants, combined with the Shamrock which symbolizes the four life goals — hope, faith, love, luck, but do these also imply health or do we hope to have faith and are lucky in love which hopefully means long term health?!Dublin hotel

In Greece flags as in all countries flow outside public buildings and some homes but it seems in the last years due to crisis and some extremism (e.g. Golden Dawn extreme right group who display both a Nazi-style flag and a Greek flag) people are less inclined to put out flags that once they used to more commonly display. One person specifically commented that he used to have a flag representing his island but due to his neighborhood’s flag being the same one flown by an extremist  group he refused to put it up again in celebrating Independence Day.  Imagine the U.S. or other parts of the world not having their flags flowing in patriotism?

If some people post images or write a post on behalf of their country’s  day of independence there should be no shame or people avoiding putting “likes” for fear of being  perceived as “nationalists”.  This is problematic, as this indeed takes away from the positive side of a person’s identity.

We  have multiple identities and it’s very unfair for people to feel pressured into elements of shame. Worse, the burning of a flag in the name of anarchy (hooded anarchists do not even know why they do it….’government’ is not the same as a country and what they have fought for). This I agree with this Greek author who calls the hooded youth pictured “idiots” in this Greek article.

In countries where people are very proud of displaying their flags such in France for the United States it would seem rather odd if you did not include a flag outside your immediate home or the community for days of independence. Let’s rethink and keep discussing  for the sake of community health shall we?! Be proud, be grateful, respect ✊!

 

Spring pickings

FA6C45A9-89C0-4C00-AC03-56CCE1A3C830I love Spring and visiting the countryside of Greece to partake in nature’s bounty. During peak pollen season I suffer greatly from allergies but I take the chance (and my antihistamines if needed) since the experience is a wonderful way to gather sunlight in the form of Vitamin D, as well as overall healing for the spirit.

As it turns out due to climate changes, the number of sufferers has been increasing according to the World Allergy Association’s WAA 2016 report. AND March 24th is world tuberculosis (TB) awareness day. So many things to be aware and health literate about (see past allergies post)!

Years ago, I read a book about a doctor who has worked with clinics around the world (Peru, Russia, Haiti)  and on his own building hospitals in downtrodden areas of Haiti and increasing awareness around TB. The book by Tracy Kidder published in 2003 was titled “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” This was the real-world story of how one person can make a difference in world health matters…. hail the idealists! However 16 years later TB is back at its peak in many parts of the globe including the Mediterranean due to population flux and lack of taking antibiotics appropriately (too many, wrong doses).

This hits me every time I see grand hotels built in the mountains as it was believed that clean air — more oxygen in essence — would help cure people thus many of these seemingly sanatoriums are considered exotic locations for other purposes (thankfully) today whether it be for skiing, sightseeing or simply taking a break! One of my favorite grand must-see hotels is the Mt. Washington hotel in New Hampshire’s Bretton Woods which dates back to the early 1900s was the place where the formation of the World Bank began after the famous Bretton World Conference to deal with the aftermath of the World War, as well as a later movie with Jack Nicholson called “The Shining”. Note, financial literacy is ONE part of health literacy is an entire new section to ponder for this blog…. stay tuned.

I posted a question about SPRING activities on a social media site,  “Each Spring since living here, I pick chamomile (despite pollen symptoms 😁) to remind myself the importance of nature helping calm the mind as well as our body with necessary healing. What do you do? Do you recognize nature’s bounties or simply pass them by?” Perhaps it goes along with the question about awareness as posed “do you stop to smell the roses?” or other small flowers, I certainly hope so!

Even though one should pick chamomile in late April or even beginning of May, I did so today …and here are some steps for that wonderful tea. Does wonders for one’s skin, stomach, great for anti-cancer and anti-diabetes regimens considered one of nature’s miracle teas (see article) . The word in Greek is χαμομήλι stems from the words “chamo” and “mile” meaning the apple of the earth …hmm sounds similar to “an apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

4 easy steps:

1) ensure the herb is indeed chamomile by smelling it first, and noticing the high hill-like shaped yellow middle (since some  mini daisies look similar!)

2) pick many tips and stems (careful don’t damage any roots to allow for regrowing) as if running a comb through nature’s “hair”. Enjoy each moment using all your senses of sight, smell and touch.

3) take home and allow it to dry for a week and more so it can be stored in glass jars for use any season (for drying use cool dry areas, careful of windy spots and consider a tulle cover).

4) boil yourself a nice cup of chamomile tea and you’ll feel healthy and calm even just recalling that lovely day you picked it!

I close with a quote by past U. S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with an image of my wonderful tea …. all well worth it.

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Luck O’ the ☘️ Irish!

2E8E2A7B-0BE8-4F57-B4E1-6741CA508BE4“Healthy Ireland” …. a great motto that we found got people’s attention printed on a lime green bag, as we walked around Dublin, Ireland this St. Patrick’s weekend. It seems this city fits the health literate cities model in terms of safety particularly since most of us are used to looking to the left side as we cross the street (drivers come from the right here as in the UK) so we need clear street markings and precautions to avoid pedestrian disasters!

Contributing  to the idea of “respecting cities” as locals or visitors, we observed  easily accessible cycling and walking paths, relatively spotless city streets with little to no dirty tagging  or “tag bombing” on city signs and historical buildings, clear signage and very helpful locals!

As with every westernized country that is over consuming sugar, fat, alcohol marketed to us daily,  all contribute to many chronic health issues if unmonitored (cardiovascular disease, obesity, alcoholism, cancer, etc.) it is important for us to keep our consumer populations informed about their health choices and habits. It’s ok to consume that “fat free in the middle” donut (LOL about the pink sign we saw outside a popular donut chain), a perfect Irish whiskey or apple cider once in a while but we also need to exercise a bit, take care around binge drinking (which happens on many college campuses and beyond) and enjoy all …. in moderation!

Thoroughly enjoyed the 4th EU Health Literacy conference in Dublin hearing about some great initiatives and building local and international networks.  We looked for shamrocks and leprechauns — no luck there — but at the end we had some great walks near the woods, ponds and castles (we recommend the half-day tour in Dublin at Malahide Castle).

Éirinn go Brách (Erin go Bragh phrase)! The Guinness was great and we toast to our luck in being there for the St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) festivities  preparations  …. hoping the Luck O’ the Irish rubs off for all of us working together for healthier communities around the globe!

“Hacking” for Health

On Friday February 22nd groups of young people, professionals of all ages and company mentors from pharmaceuticals and insurance companies got together to form teams geared to “hacking” health and building health literacy through an MIT Hacking health literacy event in Athens, Greece. Respecting the privacy of the winners two days later, the emphasis of the monetary awards was on giving hope for progress in addition to mentoring and longer term support for product fruition. Much needed in a country very much in shambles due to the crisis of the past 10 years — check out the Lancet’s “Omens of a Health Tragedy” written in earlier part of the crisis, and the most recent The New York Times opinion article written by Simon Critchley titled “Athens in Pieces: The Stench of the Academy. ”

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Speaking about health literacy in Greece and discussing the first HLS-EU study several aspects were brought up of individual and social responsibility — see video link.  It seems that this photo I shared says it all when public systems don’t work and thus includes lack of maintenance, no policing, and high risk behaviors. Enough said ….the more you look at it, the more you’d realize there is so much to do !

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What”s wrong with this picture!?

Be the change…the message of love and unity

The “morning after” Valentine’s Day I came across short video cartoon part of a series meant to help people understand about relationships a series by Fabiosa Better World. This featured a woman who felt disgruntled in her 10 year marriage, and no longer smiled at her husband, didn’t make his favorite food, was basically indifferent  and thus he was ready to divorce or I’m sure look elsewhere. He called his elder father who basically gave him basic advice — have you kept your end of the “bargain” have you kept your promises? He thought about it. He changed his behavior. This included having a “date night”, buying her a gift, helping with the house chores. Surprisingly to him, everything he used to have came back and his marriage made it successfully…simple things make the difference, BE the change in love  (by the way the 8-10 year mark is important because you either “make” it or “break” it as a couple, according to statistics).

I also participated in a training by organization Fractality on “appreciative inquiry”, who had invited an elder wise guest speaker a “yogi” in my mind, to work with mindfulness in our group on finding the goodness and inner peace in very difficult situations whether they be individuals or communities. We randomly got cards and my two are featured here reminds me of the important health literacy work in our community. BE the change in your community. Use your networks, get training to build skills, work with goodness and peace of mind.

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