Students in Armenia explore a healthy lifestyle with Healthy Buddy
UNICEF reaches over 4,200 middle and high school students from 35 communities in Armenia through Healthy Buddy edutainment sessions
It’s 11 o'clock on a hot summer Sunday morning, but Achajur village school in Tavush marz is full of students. Over 120 children have come to school to take part in UNICEF’s “Healthy Buddy” session, organized in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Academy NGO.
Healthy Buddy is a special session about health nutrition and lifestyle designed for each age group that helps children of different ages to understand the importance of proper nutrition for their life and development and to become Healthy Buddy advocates themselves.
Vahe, 7, is a new Healthy Buddy advocate, who walked for exactly 40 minutes from home to school today to take part in the session.
“I have heard of words like ‘carbohydrates’ or ‘protein’ a lot, but I didn’t know that our immune cells are made up of protein, and carbohydrates are like fuel for people․ They give us energy to move and do other things. I also did not know that sugar is a carbohydrate, but it is a bad fuel.”
Vahe prides himself of the little garden that he has at home, full of fruit trees - a big mulberry tree, a pomegranate tree, apple trees. He promised to take care of them and make sure to get his daily intake of fruit during the day. This extraordinarily smart, extremely active and quite mature 7-year-old is very caring for his family members, admires his brother, and dreams of creating a safe and positive environment in his community. “I want to become a lawyer and defend my community from criminals, so that we can all live in a better world.”
Vahe already knows that his health and success in the future depend on him eating healthy every day.
Meanwhile, thousands of children in Armenia go through what experts call the triple burden of malnutrition. First, insufficient food intake threatens the survival, growth and development of children. Then there is micronutrient deficiency - a hidden form of malnutrition - in which case children do not get enough vitamins and micronutrients, necessary for a normal immune response, bone growth and brain development. On the other hand, there is also the issue of overweight or obesity due to excess calories and sedentary lifestyle. UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and other partners work to prevent this.
“We want to create an environment where all children and young people enjoy their right to a healthy diet. Where children and their parents know exactly what is needed for healthy development and know that it is linked to children’s academic wellbeing at school and in the future. You need to eat healthy not only to have a healthy body, but also to have a healthy mind,”
“In the first two years of life, 75% of each spoon is spent on building the child’s brain. As the child grows, his or her nutritional needs also grow. We all must act urgently to have a healthier generation and society.”
At the Achajur school session, we met with three girlfriends - all three honors students, full of dreams, and super excited for the session to start.
The girls were most surprised when nutritionist Lidia Ayvazyan listed the ingredients of carbonated drinks, chips, cookies and ice cream, while presenting the repercussions of consuming junk food.
“Actually, I used to eat both healthy and junk food, but now I’ve made up my mind. I will definitely eat healthier and do my best to put together a ‘healthy plate’ with the help of veggies and fruits. I will put this ‘healthy plate’ sticker on our fridge, and it will always remind me of the secret to proper nutrition,”
Anahit’s friend Narine added that they have already learned about proteins, carbohydrates and fats during their “Me and the environment” course at school. “But I didn’t know that healthy eating is also linked to learning well at school. I love school very much, so I have to eat well in order to study well.”
Narine, who loves chess and dancing, dreams of becoming a writer. She has already authored her first four fairy tales, one of which is entitled The Chess Queen, where a little boy plays chess with the Queen and mates her in one move.
And just like the little boy in Narine’s fairy tale, ever child has the potential to “check” and “mate” to reach their full potential. But first, they must be equipped with the necessary knowledge and opportunities to achieve their dreams.
After Achajur, Healthy Buddy team is on the road again, set to reach to over 4200 girls and boys in Shirak, Kotayk, Aragatsotn, Lori, Tavush and Yerevan.