Tuesday, April 8, 2014


My sister Sue and Beverly School of Kenya students
Last week in my MOOCDiabetes - A Global Challenge class, I learned that there are 15 million people in Africa with diabetes. 81.2% of the cases are undiagnosed and Africa has the highest mortality rate from the disease. Also, it's expected that over the next 20 years, the number of Africans with diabetes will double.

A lot of the on-line discussion of my classmates is centered around what can be done to turn the global epidemic of this disease around. It's certainly a run-away train - 8.3% of people in the world have this disease -- 371 million -- and the number of new cases is growing in every country. (See map and charts)

Educating young people came up a number of times as the best solution, but many people pointed out the barriers to this: the food industry -- which continues to aggressively market to children; parents, who are uneducated themselves about the causes of the disease; and lack of budgets for education. Also, the foods that contribute to and/or cause diabetes -- highly processed foods, junk foods, and sugary drinks -- are addictive, so once kids get a taste for them, there's an attraction which is hard (some say impossible) to break. Enter some kids from Kenya...

Through my sister Sue, I was introduced to the Beverly School of Kenya. Now in its third year it has 80 students (elementary through high school) from all over Kenya as well as from Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Sudan. There is a mix of tribal, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds which makes it a very unique place. 

Approximately half of the children are from among the poorest city slums and rural areas and are at the school on full scholarship or sponsorships. Paying students are attracted by the state-of-the-art STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) center built by a generous donor. 

What the Beverly School scholarship children have in common is that they are very bright, eager young people who have been judged by the founders of the school to have what it takes to become educated leaders who can rejoin their families/communities and lead them out of ignorance and poverty. I was introduced to the founders of the program at my sister's house a few years ago when the school was only a dream, and I've been amazed at how quickly it was built and how beautifully it has taken shape. Education at the Beverly School is occurring big time!

In February my sister helped the students start a school newspaper -- The Flying Eagle Review. She sent it to me so I could read the food articles. I particularly found what the kids had to say about emotional eating quite thought provoking:

Emotional eating is one of the major causes of obesity. Emotional eating can be through celebrations such as birthday parties and many other happy moments.  

How true! I just never thought of it that way. Emotional eating, if you google it, is always about negative emotions. But obviously for food to soothe negative feelings, they first have to become associated with positive ones, and that connection often gets hard-wired when we're young. Thanks Beverly School kids, for clarifying that for me! It made me realize how important it is to make healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts be associated with happy, meaningful times for our children, so it will be those foods not Coca-Cola or McDonalds they think of when they need an emotional lift.

Please enjoy the following two articles by 8th graders of the Beverly School of Kenya (keep in mind that English is not every student's first language).:

Sumptuous Meals 

by Anthony Simiyu, class 8


 As we know food is a very important thing in our
day to day lives. Many of us give many definitions of what
we think food is. We might not know it but we could give a
wrong definition.
      Food is anything animals and people eat to keep
them healthy and strong. Some of us may sometimes use it
for a wrong purpose. And this is why we hear of people
having obesity. "What causes obesity?", one may ask.
Obesity occurs when one eats extra food then what the body
requires. Extra fats are stored in the body tissues making
one to have big huge bodies.
     Sometimes, most of us may practice in emotional
eating due to ignorance. Emotional eating is one of the major
causes of obesity. Emotional eating can be through
celebrations such as birthday parties and many other happy
moments. It might surprise you to find out that some
people eat to vent their anger. This can cause really negative
effects to a person.

Students enjoying a meal
The Yummy Foods of 
Alma Velma, class 8
    As we know food is an obvious thing that we need to have in our life. We should respect and follow any meal that we should take. We as children in the amazing Beverly have a right to eat to our fill. That is why our generous executive director Madam Alice makes sure we are full so
that we may be able to learn well.
    Beverly provides us with yummy, tasty food that we all really like. It gives us strength to play and also learn. That is really cool! Isn't it? We all think so.

    Our most favorite food is "chapati" and green grams.
We also love rice and meat. Mostly" chapati" is eaten on
Friday evening. It is made up of wheat flour. You may also
mix with milk for those who want.
    These foods that we eat have seasons. Mostly the food
that come in seasons are potatoes, carrots and many more.
Some foods that we eat are mostly due to the high standards
that are in our country and this forces us to buy the less
expensive food.
     Beverly School has also started a farm. We grow
vegetables there. This helps us not to lose too much money
to buy vegetables. This is also natural food that helps us to
be healthy and strong. This is always a sumptuous meal to
us. Is it so?
     We are also given a balanced diet. This means proteins,
carbohydrates and vitamins. This helps us to be strong and
healthy. Beverly School makes sure that we are given the
right amount of food. Not too much and not too little an
amount. Too much amount of food may lead to obesity.
This can risk heart diseases. You may not be able to learn
well. Too little amount of food may lead to poor health.
This will make you not study well.
      Beverly has also given a menu to the cooks on what
they'll cook each day. This avoids eating foods in a wrong
purpose, e.g. emotional eating , too much eating because you
are happy, angry or maybe stressed up.

In a recent email my sister had this to say about Kenya: 

I understand (from a Kenyan here in the States) that if you are slender in Kenya it is considered a sign of poverty or possibly illness, that having a little meat on you shows you are prospering!  That's emotional!  Also, in Kenyan cities, you can find grocery stores with every  junk food just like here, rurally much more fresh produce, nuts etc.   But what drove me crazy was the signs for Coke everywhere - the poorest of rural shanty towns would boast a Coca-Cola logo.  No McDonalds yet, but there's Kentucky Fried Chicken!  The western influence you really wish you could stop!

Studying about diabetes and its link to obesity and processed foods can feel discouraging. But here's what gives me faith that we can turn this thing around: clever teachers and bright students as found at the Beverly school AND real food -- it does taste wonderful and makes us feel so much better than the processed stuff. 
Beverly School of Kenya, the high school girls

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