Healthy habits start with STEM in Sandy Lake

Alexa, Dhekra, Sam and Candice standing with the Health and Diabetes Program mascot

In April 2017, Let’s Talk Science Outreach students from the University of Toronto St. George site, Alexa, Dhekra, Sam, and Candice, travelled to the Sandy Lake Native Reserve in northwestern Ontario to help facilitate the Sandy Lake Health and Diabetes Outreach project. Getting to Sandy Lake was no easy task and required a full day of travel on three planes, as the community could not be reached by land. Upon arrival, they were welcomed graciously into the community and introduced to the Sandy Lake Health and Diabetes Awareness Group who they would work closely with over the week.

The Sandy Lake Health and Diabetes Outreach project is a weeklong program that started in 2011 as a summer camp initiative to raise youth awareness of the risks of diabetes in northern Canadian communities. The isolated geographical location of this community makes transportation of perishable foods challenging and expensive; causing the price of food to be very high. As well, the long winter season makes local farming and gardening difficult. Due to these factors, residents of Sandy Lake Native Reserve have a higher risk of nutrition-related health problems.

Throughout the week, the Outreach volunteers ran a variety of activities with the students focusing on building a healthy “balanced diet”. This included learning about gardening, soil properties, building mini-chicken coops as well as planting beans and radishes in their own window gardens.

“The food testing activity with the older kids was the icing on the cake. Watching their faces light up when they saw crackers and cheerios turn purple due to the presence of starch, was worth all the meticulous prep the week before!” said Alexa, Let’s Talk Science Outreach coordinator responsible for the Nutrition, Digestion, and Food analysis activity.

In the evenings, the community often participated in physical activities like the 1,2,3 Community Walk or a fitness class that a coordinator from the Diabetes Awareness Group, Jason, had created. The Let’s Talk Science Outreach volunteers even planned a game that incorporated a fun science twist.

Alexa, Dhekra, Sam and Candice standing with members of the Sandy Lake Native Reserve.

“To make it more engaging for the younger kids, we designed both physical and thinking games to represent different body parts. With each game or activity that was carried out, the participants learned about the functions of that body part in a fun and interactive way. The kids loved the “Nervous System Broken Telephone,” probably because they could get their friends to do silly actions at the end of the whisper chain.”

Thanks to the welcoming and inclusive community at Sandy Lake, Alexa, Dhekra, Sam, and Candice were able to experience First Nations culture. They went ice fishing, tried traditional foods like bannock, and even learned how to say “It’s our pleasure to be here” in Oji-Cree.

“We would like to thank Gary, Elliot, the remaining members of the Health and Diabetes Awareness Group, and the whole Sandy Lake community for hosting us for a week, it was truly an unforgettable experience.”

To read more about Alexa, Dhekra, Sam and Candice’s trip to Sandy Lake Native Reserve, visit Alexa’s blog herewhere she outlines their activities day by day. To get involved with Let’s Talk Science Outreach and participate in meaningful volunteer opportunities like the Sandy Lake Health and Diabetes Outreach project, visit outreach.letstalkscience.ca.