On the small islands of Chuuk, rates of diabetes-related incidents are falling due to the efforts of a group of women who are working to tackle health issues on the island.
As a chronic disease, diabetes can be manageable, but when unattended, the complications can be fatal. Instead of just accepting diabetes as a normal part of life, the Chuuk Women's Council put a plan into action.
In 2002, through the Pap Ola Lokahi-funded Healthy Lifestyle program, the CWC raised awareness with health pamphlets translated into the Chuukese language, promoted healthy eating and home gardens, and provided opportunities for physical activity. They organized weekly zumba classes, quarterly sports tournaments for youth and sponsored walkathons.
According to their numbers, their efforts led to a drop in diabetes-related amputations by 56 percent from 2006 to 2009. Debridement, or the removal of dead or infected skin, decreased by 42 percent.
The CWC is a 27-year-old community-based organization on the Pacific island of Chuuk that serves as an umbrella organization for 64 women's organizations and about a thousand members. Not only does the seven-person staff tackle topics of diabetes—the second leading cause of death on the island— and its dangerous complications, but they have bolstered awareness on topics of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, abstinence, reproductive health, childhood immunizations and vitamin A deficiency.
Through trainings, outreach and one-on-one community encounters, this brigade of "mothers and aunties" is advancing overall health on the island.
Leading the way is Christine "Kiki" Stinnett.
"It's kind of an honor to lead all these efforts for Chuukese women, but it's also a big responsibility," Stinnett said, noting that the Chuukese people want to do something healthy for themselves, but they need help to organize, educate and share prevention strategies.
Stinnett was elected president of the organization in 2010, relinquishing her role as treasurer and taking over the mantle of responsibility after her mother's passing.
Since becoming president, Stinnett and the CWC have continued expanding their reputation among organizations, health providers and community members and have even built the Shinobu M. Poll Memorial Center, a women's wellness facility named in honor of Stinnett's mother.
The newly-built, 2,600-square-foot facility will not only help aid the work of the CWC, but can also be used by their members for board meetings, workshops and trainings. According to Stinnett, the building will also be used to offer wellness checkups, a room for traditional crafting and sewing lessons to provide females with a skill they can use as a source of income, a media room for recording trainings and rooms for HIV/AIDS testing, counseling and referral services.
But regardless of new technology, facilities or encouraging statistics, the CWC is not content to sit back on past achievements. Instead, they continue the practice of going out into the community to spread the word instead of expecting others to come to them. Currently, the two HIV educators regularly go into the community to speak with their neighbors throughout the island about HIV prevention, behavior and beliefs in a culturally competent manner.
They continue outreach efforts to area schools, using their peer-to-peer counseling methods around topics of tuberculosis, reproductive health and STDs, displayed most recently for International Women's Day in March.
"We have improved the knowledge and understanding of why it is we do what we're doing," Stinnett said. "We (the CWC) do training before they do anything. Then they go out and apply what they learned."
Stinnett is also encouraging other women to get involved with young people's education through the Parent, Teacher Association, providing support to help youth and schools prepare children for the future.
"We have a very important role as the mother and the manager of the household," Stinnett said, adding that she encourages CWC members "to get involved and be participants in things that go [on] in our community."
"I just believe our children need to be invested in because they are the future leaders of our country," Stinnett said. "They're the driving force of what we're doing. Being an auntie in the community, you always have a role to play."
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