When I look back on my childhood, I can identify a couple of situations when health really mattered to me: as a kid with asthma, and as a birthday girl with weak immunity. That is when I realized that maybe being a kid is not enough to have fun.
When I look back on my childhood, I can identify a couple of situations when health really mattered to me: as a kid with asthma, and as a birthday girl with weak immunity.
Growing up, I was a sickly child. Out of three siblings, I was the only one with a record of hospital admission. My brother and I had allergic asthma, so our childhood was full of vapor rubs, inhalers, and an unlimited supply of bimpo (face towel). All I remember from back then were the many times my Mama would help me nebulize, because I was having difficulty breathing. There were also moments when we had to go to the doctor for a checkup, before going to the pharmacy to buy medicine. Hospital visits were interesting for me, until I was old enough to go to school, which I found to be more exciting. Later on, I no longer had to see my doctor because I didn’t have asthma anymore. Physical activities in school helped me overcome it.
Because I was healthier and could better control my lungs while playing, I was permitted to join extracurricular clubs in school. I went into dancing and sports, where I could be with my friends. However, I can never forget that one time I had to be absent. I couldn’t participate in any of the programs. It was Nutrition Month, and I got too sick from playing in the rain. It was July, the start of the typhoon season. The worst part was—and that’s why I can never forget that this happened—I was sick during my own birthday party! My friends got mad because they all had to leave early.
We all think that being a kid is fun. I used to think that, too, until I started getting sick from allergies and infections. I couldn’t go to parties and games. That is when I realized that maybe being a kid is not enough to have fun. Despite the many hours of play we get, they do not matter if we aren’t healthy. Having fun and being healthy should naturally go together then, and this is what Health Science On the Go (HSOTG) means to me.
I remember my Papa used to force me to eat this bright orange, squishy vegetable. He described the taste as something like potatoes. It was actually kalabasa (squash), which is good for the eyes. Whenever I have a fever or the flu, I was always given proper medicine to treat it. I’m lucky my parents were knowledgeable enough about raising healthy children, but what about my friends’ parents?
Before HSOTG, my exposure to health science came when I was applying to college. I studied biology, chemistry, and physics in high school, but nothing on health and medicine was available then, more so during elementary. Public health awareness came way after I graduated from college, unless you count that one year when all the girls in my school had to wear knee-high socks because of a dengue outbreak.
We spend half our childhoods in school with our classmates and teachers. I don’t remember learning much about health other than the food groups (science subject) and physical exercise (PE subject). If the HSOTG exhibit was available then, and our school was able to visit, I’m sure I could have gained more knowledge and increased my interest in the different topics.
The greatest reward of working on HSOTG is seeing the smiles and happy faces of the students being able to play with the interactive exhibits. It’s quite amusing to see a student’s eyebrows furrow while he’s trying to understand a concept, or a pair of students figuring out how the exhibit works and then winning the game eventually. Knowing what triggers both a kid’s imagination and learning is an expertise that Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology shared with us. I’ve seen it work in the 20,000 students we’ve already reached since we launched the exhibit in September 2015. Hopefully, we see it in a hundred thousand more.
Now I wonder what the students think when they hear about health. Do they consider sleeping early at night as a healthy habit? Do they think eating three meals a day is a luxury, not a need? Do they know that when they walk every day to school, they burn at least 80 calories, depending on how far they live? These things are usually taken for granted but all of them play a role in keeping young bodies healthy. Health Science On the Go is only an introduction to what being health-literate means, and how one can build a healthier Philippines. Until our students learn that being healthy is important in growing up smart and productive, we’ll keep the wheels rolling and bring our exhibit to areas as far and wide as we can reach.
Kathleen Largo is a Project Officer of Health Science On the Go, Unilab Foundation's traveling exhibit on health science, in partnership with Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology. During her free time, Kath loves surfing, volunteering, and reading online magazines.