February 18, 2002

WRHA, R.B. Russell, MTYP Partner to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes Through Educational Theatre

In collaboration with Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP) and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), 16 students at Winnipeg's R.B. Russell Vocational high school will present Make the Right Choice, a performance/workshop project about preventing Type 2 Diabetes. The project targets over 1,500 students in grades four to six from 15 Point Douglas and core area schools, and runs February 18 to March 1.

Written, directed and performed by R.B. Russell students in the school's Community Action Program, led by teachers Jay Willman, Gaeta Shaw and Robyn Traill, Make the Right Choice focuses attention on the growing problem of Type 2 diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions among the city's aboriginal community. The Point Douglas area of Winnipeg has the highest rate of Type 2 Diabetes in the city, and a growing number of children are being diagnosed with the illness.

The performance/workshops are divided into two sections, the first of which consists of a series of scenes about making healthy lifestyle choices. In the second half of the presentation, the actors divide the audience into groups and do a series of games, discussions and sharing circles, designed to support the messages of healthy eating and active living promoted in the performance.

"We need to teach children that Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease and that healthy eating and active living are important," says the show's producer, Rosemary Szabadka, the community nutritionist for the WRHA in the Point Douglas area.

Says Claire Kelly, a 16-year-old RB student involved in the project, "I'm hoping that this generation of young aboriginals will make the right choices around a healthy lifestyle." Szabadka initiated the project to create a piece of educational theatre for school-aged children in Point Douglas. After MTYP and R.B. Russell came on board, the project received funding from the Winnipeg Foundation.

Through coordinating consultant Ellen Peterson, MTYP provided consultation on script and technical matters, as well as administrative resources and contacts in the theatrical community. MTYP also organized a workshop for the R. B. Russell students with playwright Ian Ross.

"Projects like this one really integrate theatre and art with the network of community organizations concerned with children in Manitoba and, specifically, in Winnipeg's core area," says MTYP Artistic Director Leslee Silverman. "The power of theatre as a vehicle for communication is well documented, but the strength of this project comes from having students bring the message directly to their peers."

The partnership with WRHA is the latest of many similar collaborations in which MTYP has been involved. Over the years, MTYP has developed and produced local and national theatre programs for such organizations as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Canadian Women's Foundation, and the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

The R.B. Russell Community Action Program has won national and provincial awards for its work. It has been recognized by the Addictions Foundation of Canada and other organizations for helping to strengthen the community by using educational theatre to identify problems of the inner-city, create meaningful dialogue and start the problem-solving process. For ten years, students at R.B. Russell have been taking part in the program to develop and present performance/workshops on important community issues.

When the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Board of Directors set their vision statement, they included prevention and promotion, stating that the WRHA will lead with innovative and cost-effective health education and injury prevention programs. Projects such as this one are just one of the many examples that WRHA staff are involved with as they work to fulfil this vision.

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