Jamaican nutritionist cops dietetic foundation awards

Imagine being paid for something that you enjoy and, not only that, think about being the first person in the Caribbean to win an award for that job and the only person in history to ever cop two awards at a ceremony. This is the glory that Jamaican nutritionist Patricia Thompson has been basking in since her awards were presented to her in the United States last month. She is the proud recipient of the American Dietetic Association Foundation 2009 Competitive Essay Award, and the First International Nutritionist/ Dietitian Fellowship for study in the US. Thompson started out as a nutritionist in 1976, and started working with schools in 1998. She said the Ministry of Education, in association with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), developed a project for primary schools in a bid to improve performance in mathe-matics and language arts. This focused mainly on schools that were below par, many of which are in deep rural Jamaica and the inner city. She told The Gleaner that, at the outset, the main objective was to give iron supplements and deworming but, when the Ministry of Health did not condone it, the programme was halted and she was asked to propose alternatives. Community approach Determination set in and she examined the breakfast programmes, which lacked sustainability, and decided to assist in obtaining funds for maintaining it. After careful consideration, a community approach was decided. "I taught the parents the importance of breakfast, showed them how to put together a balanced breakfast, and we engaged them in volunteering," explained Thompson. Commenting further on the volunteer process, she said parents go to the schools to prepare breakfast, and this has received positive feedback, despite initial reservations by teachers. "At first the teachers didn't even want the parents because they say the parents are only coming to see what they can get, so we had to get social workers to work with the teachers and the parents for them to realise that they can interact socially together," said Thompson, noting that a major hindrance for the breakfast programme is sustainability, and getting the parents involved is of utmost importance. Now she is seeing the fruits of her labour as the programme is part of the school improvement plan and education officers are involved, as they check on the programmes to ensure that they are still functioning. In her efforts to reduce child hunger, Thompson has set up a non-governmental organisation called Jamaica Island Nutrition Network (JINN), which has been meeting since January with hopes of starting a pilot project in January 2010.