Diverse faith leaders together to fight diabetes in Houston
The Faith & Diabetes program is bringing together Houstonians from different faiths and backgrounds to learn about and fight diabetes.
So far, around 50 Muslim, Hindu and Christian leaders have graduated from the train-the-trainer program and are now equipped to lead six-week Diabetes Self-Management Education & Support programs in their respective congregations, according to Stuart Nelson, the vice president for the Institute for Spirituality and Health.
A part of the Cities Changing Diabetes initiative started by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, Faith & Diabetes came about as one of five action work groups that were created to address diabetes in Houston.
The Institute for Spirituality and Health began working with Cities Changing Diabetes in mid-2016, meeting with public health officials, nonprofits, educational leaders, religious and faith leaders, people living with diabetes and others private companies.
Out of that, the first Faith & Diabetes cohort began early in 2018, and Nelson said 28 leaders from 13 different faith communities graduated, followed by another 23 leaders from 11 different faith communities that finished Sept. 22.
Faith Foreman-Hays, assistant director of the Houston Health Department, said Houston has a serious diabetes problem and that Cities Changing Diabetes’ assessment of risks and vulnerabilities showed that meeting people in their communities of faith to talk about diabetes made sense.
“We found that more than 50 percent of people living in Houston regularly attend a place of worship,” she said. “So, by tackling diabetes care and prevention through houses of faith, we can impact many different faiths and cast our net right across the city to help those who may be vulnerable or who may know someone who is vulnerable.”
Nelson said since 1955, the Institute of Spirituality and Health has considered religious beliefs, practice and community life to take on important health issues facing the city of Houston.
“Humans aren’t just sacks of cells walking around,” he said. “ISH affirms that humans are bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings and that we can only achieve true, whole health by paying attention to each of these areas — not in isolation, but together.”
Nelson said he hopes the DSMES programs will help people become more aware of their bodies and the bio-physiology factors around diabetes so that they can make lifestyle changes and better manage the condition.
He also said destigmatizing diabetes and getting people to talk about the subject is another objective.
“They think if ‘I don’t talk about it, it will go away,’ or they’re embarrassed, or they’re reluctant to engage even with family members around health, so we want to spread this message [that] the only way that we’ll be able to address this epidemic is by talking about it and learning from each other about successful management and prevention strategies,” Nelson said.
Msemwa Kibodya graduated in the first cohort and said she first learned about Faith & Diabetes through Taiba, which is a mentorship program for Muslim women. Pre-diabetic with a family history of diabetes, she jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for the program. She said she appreciates that it isn’t a quick fix or a one-time solution but instead shows people how to change how they live, plan and manage.
“My family is changing everything as a result. We are exercising more, we are eating better — with half a plate of vegetables, some protein and starch,” she said. “Now [that] I know what a balanced plate of food looks like, I have that plate in my head when I cook. That was a huge moment for me, and I told my whole family.”
For the Sept. 22 graduation, a team from Leicester, U.K., traveled to observe Faith & Diabetes in action in order to implement a program there.
Nelson said he hopes Faith & Diabetes will be able to expand the training into more communities and traditions, translate materials into Vietnamese, Chines, Urdu and Arabic and start the training in Spanish using the Spanish materials they already have.
“With our Cities Changing Diabetes work as a springboard, at ISH we envision informed, focused attention to chronic diseases in communities of faith across Houston, Texas, America and the world,” Nelson said.
To learn more about Faith & Diabetes, visit www.faithanddiabetes.org or www.spiritualityandhealth.org, or contact Thomasina Burns at 713-797-0600 or email@example.com.