When he was a child, Schweitzer Fellow Parteek Singla’s parents used art as a way to help the then shy boy express himself. The process instilled a love of art in him that manifests itself today in Singla’s love of photography. Today, the medical student is combing his love of art with his love of health with Project JUMPST(ART) which teaches young people to talk about issues that impact their health, such as drinking, drug use, and sex, through the medium of art.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
PS: My past service projects have focused on young people because I strongly believe in the importance of educating youth to create a strong foundation for the future. If you ask most young people today for a list of their role models, you will hear about pop artists, fashion models, actors, and sports athletes. While these individuals have worked hard to be successful, it is ironic that young people often choose role models whom they barely know. And with the media focusing on the faults of many of these role models, it is no wonder that young people can get confused about the meaning of success. Education can empower young people to make responsible, informed decisions.
The art aspect of my project stemmed from my parents doing art activities with me as a kid. I was really shy growing up and art was an avenue for me to express myself in a way that I couldn’t do with words. Even to this day, I enjoy photography, which allows me to view the world through a different set of lenses. My project, Project JUMPST(ART) combines my dual interests in health and art and sees students learning about health topics by using art as a therapeutic medium.
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
PS: I hope that with a better understanding of health topics, students will make educated decisions that can reduce their health risks in the future. As a prospective physician, I think it is important to address youth education early to identify risk factors that can otherwise lead to chronic health problems. By using art as a medium for health education, I hope that students will think about how they deal with challenges and encourage them to venture out of their comfort zones to try something new. At the end of each semester, the project will culminate in a public gallery exhibit where parents will have the opportunity to visit the community center and see the art that the students have produced. Issues such as drinking, drug use, and sex are often uncomfortable issues for students to discuss with their parents. However, I hope that as students become more knowledgeable, they become more empowered to ask questions that let their parents know of the issues in their lives. Rather than assuming that their kids are too young to understand, parents can use this project as a foundation to talk to their kids about the issues and be a role model by example. Given the potential lasting impact on the community, I have involved students at the local university and plan to train them to conduct activities beyond the fellowship year for sustainability.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
PS: There is no doubt that chronic diseases are important health-related issues of our time. Lifestyle risk factors that begin early in youth continue and build up to cause significant health risks later in life. Youth education is the best approach to reducing the incidences of chronic diseases. If more focus can be placed on youth education about chronic diseases and risk factors, then individuals can adopt healthy behaviors early in life that will hopefully prevent them from having to deal with these issues in the future.
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
PS: What has been most surprising is the high level of interest the students already have in art. The group has already been involved in painting a mural and has worked together to build a metal sculpture that is on display. Students have talked with me about their favorite types of art and some have brought their previous artwork to show the group. There are a lot of budding artists with enormous creativity within the group and it is rewarding to see how art has helped serve as an outlet for them to express their interests much in the same way art has helped me.
PS: Being a Schweitzer Fellow means being a part of a group working to make positive national change. I enjoy learning and working with other Fellows and using their projects as a way to learn more about the issues in today’s society. I hope that by working with the other fellows, our work can be the pebble that creates a ripple effect to encourage others in the community to get out and give back. Though “Fellows for Life” may be for Schweitzer Fellows, I see the group as a collective of all individuals everywhere working to make positive change in their communities. As Albert Schweitzer once stated, “Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.” In the same way, “Fellows for Life” are individuals who are constantly leading by example and motivating others everywhere to get out and make a difference.
Click here to learn more about the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.