Patria-Kaye Aarons | Use primary schools to get Jamaica moving
I’m actually a big believer in Jamaica Moves.
More than eight out of every ten persons living on the island do little to no physical activity, according to the last published Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey. With that in mind, the prevalence of the very many lifestyle diseases we are afflicted with is no surprise.
Between cars, buses, and robot taxis, we hardly ever walk to our destinations anymore; and home, school, and work are all experienced with our behinds firmly planted in a chair. No wonder we are getting sick.
So when Minister Tufton launched Jamaica Moves, I was all for it. I’m really wanting to see the traction of the campaign significantly increase and want physical activity to become a part of all of us – whether we can afford gym fees and personal trainers or not. Still, exercise is seen as an “uptown people thing”. And scheduled, regular movement is confined to a certain socio-economic set.
I have a big, ambitious suggestion that could increase the reach and effectiveness of Jamaica Moves dramatically.
Why not make primary school playing fields Jamaica Moves hubs?
Every community has at least one primary school within walking distance. And all primary schools have a playground – a grassy patch of land that can accommodate the occasional community football match and the daily local jogger.
I suggest that the ministries of education and health partner and make these spaces available to community members free of charge in the evenings and on weekends.
The fields can open up at around 4 or 5 p.m. (long after school has closed and the little ones have gone home.) And they can remain accessible until the sun goes down so that schools don’t attract the additional electricity expense to light the field.
Get people walking, jogging. I’m certain community leaders would mobilise neighbours to come out. Gyms in the area could volunteer a trainer once a month to conduct free aerobics sessions on the field.
Corporate entities near each school could sponsor the installation of swing sets and jungle gyms for use by both the students who attend while school is in session and the young people who visit with their parents in the evenings.
Local church praise and worship teams and the community ‘Dancin’ Dynamite’ entrants can arrange the occasional dance class to mix up the movement options. Tourists could come to a free exercise session at a local school. What an experience!
ZERO WASTE ZONE
Ensure that users know it’s a zero waste zone, so the added number of people don’t put additional pressure on garbage collection. Allow local farmers and vendors to sell at the gate during those extended hours, provided they pay small maintenance fees. They can only sell products that can either be composted (like fruit or coconut water from the husk) and water or fruit juices from bottles that can be recycled.
Refuse from fruit, etc, can be added to the school’s compost heap. (If they don’t already have one, get it started). Plastic bottles can be bagged separately for recycling collection.
I envision that a small provision like this safe space to exercise could have benefits that extend beyond better health. It perhaps, can start a culture of better garbage disposal; it could have the tangential benefit of building a spirit of community; and it could become a reason for neighbours to coalesce together, to meet up and walk to and from the playground in groups, to introduce yourself to fellow citizens you had never spoken to before but see exercising every day.
Primary schools are public spaces – underutilised and full of possibility. Let’s get creative in ensuring that all of Jamaica get’s moving – old and young, town and country, rich and poor.