This World Cancer Day, government school students find a platform to voice opinions for healthier future generations

Mumbai: This World Cancer Day, young adolescents from municipal and government schools in the city came together for a unique initiative. Students from Bal Parishad and Bal Panchayat — the advocacy and leadership forums created by NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation — voiced their concerns on issues related to general health and nutrition among youngsters. Much like the Model United Nations (MUN) in private schools, this event is owned by municipal school children and is their unique platform to showcase their achievements as change agents. It also gives them a platform to interact with government officials and policymakers to bring about a positive change in the society. The event was held at NM Joshi Municipal School, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Since 2007, Bal Panchayat and Bal Parishad have been providing government school students the opportunity to raise their voice and create action on various issues that affect their health and well-being. Through these activities, students – who are also part of the NGO’s In-School Preventive Health Programme — develop a network of peer advocates and share strategies for change in their communities. Select school members of the Bal Panchayat go on to form the Bal Parishad which meets policymakers every year at an event that is organised on the lines of a Model United Nations. Policymakers include senior government officials from various departments.

This year’s event centred around the theme ‘Collaboration for A Healthier Generation’. It saw 250 selected students from 350 schools across the city coming together to interact with government officials on issues like general nutrition, tobacco-free school policy, COTPA, food and health policies, tobacco-free public places, prohibition on direct and indirect advertisements related to tobacco, etc. The previous editions of Bal Parishad have set some inspiring precedents where the questions and demands raised by the students have prompted officials to take strong action. Some of the questions raised by them were in spite of the tobacco free school policy taken by the government, there are schools where the policy is still not effective. How can this be better enforced? Today, the mid-day meal serves only ‘khichdi’; if the students want to make any suggestion, which is the appropriate department to go to?

This year’s event was attended by eminent dignitaries like Mr. Sandesh Rewale, Sr. Police Inspector – Crime Branch and Enforcement Department – Mumbai Police, Mr. Sailesh Adhav, Joint Commissioner, FDA, Maharashtra, Dr. Krishna Methekar, Deputy Director, WR, FSSAI India, Ms. Ranjana Rao – Asst. Education Officer, Education Department, South Mumbai, Maharashtra, Dr. Arun Nakwa – Health Executive Officer, MCGM, and Ms. Suvarna Joshi – Associate Editor, News 18 Lokmat.

A unique feature of this year’s Bal Parishad was an exciting Food Festival that was all about healthy recipes created at a very low cost. Poor nutrition results in poor outcomes that have an impact on future well-being. This initiative is the result of awareness sessions held among the adolescents who in turn educated their parents about the importance of healthy and nutritious food. The delectable recipes were curated jointly by mothers and their children using ingredients commonly found on kitchen shelves.

Some of the best recipes were chosen and displayed at the Food Festival – each showcasing the ingredients used in the creation along with their detailed nutritional value all laid out for visitors. Of these, a few recipes were selected by Chef Tushar Deshmukh and Dr. Krishna Methekar who judged the ‘Healthy Recipe’ competition.

Tshering D. Bhutia, Vice President – Projects (In-School Preventive Health & Research), Salaam Bombay Foundation said, “Bal Parishad is a platform where students get to interact with officials in important government positions and for the latter to get to know what these youngsters want for their future. All our Bal Parishad sessions have yielded very fruitful results. This year, the focus was on creating awareness about what it takes to bring about a healthier future generation. The Food Festival received an overwhelming response where mothers and children created special recipes that are not just healthy but within minimal costs.”

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