On the 15th of October, our Heart of the Matter (HOTM) project reached its conclusion at a community engagement event held in the Delft Civic Centre in Cape Town. The Delft residents who participated in the project rose to the occasion with terrific enthusiasm to showcase the photobook and two films that they had been working hard to produce since the beginning of the year.
The HOTM brought together nineteen dynamic Delft community members in a unique partnership with a group of cardiovascular disease (CVD) research scientists from Stellenbosch University, led by Professor Hans Strijdom.
In the first phase of the project a team of 11 community members – who chose to name themselves the Delft Health Ambassadors—participated in a photovoice process. Through this process the group developed a novel photobook, using images and narratives to describe accessibility to different types of food in the urban township of Delft, key factors influencing their food choices and their perspectives on what healthy eating means.
During its development, the HOTM photobook was shared at several stages with the scientific team, providing them with first-hand and grounded information regarding the diets and lifestyles of people who live in a place that has a particularly high rate of cardiovascular disease. The Stellenbosch researchers contributed to the book with many comments about what they had learned through the photographs, and by providing essential public health information about cardiovascular disease. So far, 150 copies of this colourful and unique photobook have been disseminated, mainly into the Delft community with some also being given to medical scientists with an interest in community engagement, at Stellenbosch.
In Phase 2 of the project, eight younger community members – who ranged in age from 18 to 25 and called themselves the Delft Youth Ambassadors – collectively, designed, scripted and shot a short film entitled Your Health is Your Wealth. The film illustrates the ways in which heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes have impacted the lives of these young people. Your Health Is Your Wealth also describes what the youth participants think can and should be done to address the heart disease epidemic that is ‘’tearing families apart’’.
The 3rd phase of HOTM enabled the Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors, and the CVD research group, to work together in making the film For a better life. The film further explores the Delft participants’ knowledge about what is driving the high prevalence of heart disease in the community, and illustrates how their regular engagement with the group of CVD research scientists over nine months has augmented their awareness about the health implications of food and lifestyle choices.
Phase 4 was all about the HOTM community engagement event which took place on a windy but sunny spring day in October after 3 months of detailed planning by the Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors. The Ambassadors and the SLF team all arrived early and with much excitement and anticipation to set up and prepare for the arrival of the audience. All guests had been personally invited by the Ambassadors and were warmly welcomed by them at the door. The first 45 guests received a copy of the HOTM photobook. The CVD team from Stellenbosch University also arrived in good time to help welcome guests and catch up with the Delft participants before the start of the programme.
The Delft Health and Youth Ambassadors’ ownership and enjoyment of the day was evident from the very minute they arrived at the Civic Centre. The event was MC’d in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa and all of the Ambassadors took a turn on the stage. As well as showcasing the book and films that they had produced together, the two Delft groups had designed the packed programme to encourage audience engagement, including energetic dancing and singing performances by local artists. The day’s activities also included some question and answer sessions to gauge and amplify the learning that was happening in the room as the event progressed. Many questions about heart disease that had been asked by the Delft participants throughout their engagement with the project were given carefully prepared and thorough answers by the scientific team, with the intention of sharing this knowledge with all in attendance. The lively audience of 120 guests were entertained, informed and well fed throughout the afternoon! Their sustained engagement and positive responsiveness indicated that the event was a success and the Ambassadors and scientific team received fervent applause at its closing.
We hope that the HOTM project has helped to raised awareness among the Delft community about the ways in which food and lifestyle choices influence the risk of developing CVD. The scientific team commented on their experiences of participating in the project in the following ways…
‘It brought me back to earth in a way, and made me realise that our research must always be to the benefit of society. Having said that, I must also state that this project confirmed that we, as a group, are doing relevant research, and it has strengthened my resolve to continue with what we are doing’.
‘I have realised the value of having our research ultimately translated to our communities in an understandable manner. At the end of the day, these are the people we are doing it for’.
‘Gaining knowledge and understanding from the perspective of the community members themselves renders insight that the laboratory cannot offer. A unique opportunity is created where the two ‘worlds’ can interact and gain better perspectives and understanding through the exchange of information’.
‘It is vital for researchers to communicate their research to the general public, be it through workshops or media outlets. These forms of communication and interactions may help educate not only caregivers but also children, thus giving the knowledge to make better choices regarding their own health’.
‘Although this engagement did not affect how we conduct research, it has helped broaden our knowledge with regard to cultural and social issues that may influence heart health’.
Mashudu Eva Mthethwa
‘More than anything it reaffirmed my ambition to continue with research that can have large-scale positive impacts on the communities such as Delft’.