Monday, August 28, 2017

Healthy Sikh Youth

Today was probably one of the easiest transitions back to school/work than I’ve ever had, so I’m glad to have the time to write. A lot of what I learned today was about how preventing disease and healthy communities starts with healthy children (starting in pregnancy). At work, I was reading through a report from Northern Health about growing up healthy in our region. It talked about a lot of the social things that affect our health like education/employment, food/housing, and social supports (called social determinants of health), and about which things we are doing well and which need to be improved.

As I was reading through, I was thinking about what aspects of this are and are not relevant to our cultural community. In many ways, I have been asking myself these questions for years… What issues is our Sikh community facing and how do we address them? When we were planning programs directed at gang violence prevention in the South Asian program, or talking about diabetes, we had to address how specific aspects of our culture played into the issue at hand. I remember once when I was handing out healthy cooking DVDs about how to make healthier dhaal, one of the Aunties was insulted and said “but I already know how to cook!” It taught me that we have to think in a difference lens for different populations.

The report I read talked about how it’s important for a child to have their basic needs met (food, housing, education, childcare), emotional needs met (feel safe, valued, loved), and participate in the community (through activities in nature, cultural, and organized activities). I thought about what we do really well in our cultural community. One of the sections in the report was about improvement is needed in destigmatizing supports for parents. For the Sikh community, I think we good job of supporting pregnant moms and new moms. Particularly,there is a recognition that new moms need help, and either families come from far to help, or if they live all together already, it helps to take the pressure off the new parents for getting time to sleep, and take care of themselves. I also feel like there is encouragement for breastfeeding as well. I remember was actually surprised the first time I had heard about stigma around breast-feeding, because growing up in our culture it’s definitely supported and encouraged. We do a good job of emphasizing the importance of education as well.

I think in particular our community does a good job of connecting youth to our culture. We have recognized the importance of identity, and belonging and our roots. At the Gurdwara we provide programs like tabla lessons, punjabi lessons, kirtan classes, etc. Obviously most of us want our youth to be able to sit and participate in the program, but sometimes it can be really long for them. I remember Bhai Manvir Singh Ji talked in one of his kathas about how even having kids playing outside (not in the main hall) when they are younger is okay, because they develop a positive association with coming to the Gurdwara (instead of having the memory of someone yelling at them!). I feel like in the Sikh community we also do a good job of teaching resiliency through struggle, which is not only through our history, but most families have had when they adjusted to life in Canada. Overall, I really feel like we do a lot to help keep our children healthy and invest in their future. I think because families are invested in each other and our dreams are usually collective- that your children be successful in their lives, etc., it helps because the goals are long term. 

There were many recommendations in the report I read about what should be improved in our communities to support youth, and that included better supports for mental health and substance use, addressing poverty, etc. When we apply this to our cultural community, I think alcohol use, youth gang involvement/drug use, anger, and domestic violence are issues. Learning healthy coping strategies for stress (following the teachings of Sikhi and learning to combat the  thieves) is important to help in making our families healthier. Working on developing a sense of responsibility in the family (helping out around the house, etc.) and larger responsibility for our actions should be improved as well. That ties into some of the issues with drug use/gangs as well, because families that deny their child's problem enable the youth not to take responsibility, but those that get help often save their children's lives and futures. Developing a relationship with police is also a challenge in our community. I remember we were taking pictures with my dad one day, and someone said before they knew it was him, they initially panicked that the police was here. For those of us born here, police/9-1-1 means protection, safety, help. For many people from India, police means something different due to corruption. So I think developing positive relationships with police as a source for help when there is trouble is also important. I know a few Sikh youth who now want to become police officers and I think that’s really awesome in being able to change that perception for our futures!

Lastly, I think another new emerging issue is technology. I have read a few questions from youth about technology on Sikhnet, and on top of that, observing my own young cousins I’ve realized that a lot of parents don’t know what’s going on online. On top of that, a lot of youth don’t seem to know anything about basic internet safety! Especially for families that don’t supervise their kids that closely (often not by choice- grandma is watching the kids because both parents are working, etc.), it can be hard to know what they are doing online, compounded by the fact that some parents don’t know how to use that technology themselves.

We all play a role as part of the community to the health of children growing up. I think it’s important to recognize and explore what aspects of that we are doing well and which areas we can work on to support the healthy development of Sikh youth that are growing up.

The reference to the northern health report I was referring to:

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