In February, Margie Colclough and our Head Dietitian Brenda Davis, teamed up with Tanner and Kristen Smith, Directors of Canvasback’s Wellness Center in Majuro, Marshall Islands to run one of our signature lifestyle interventions. The two-week program provided presentations and hands-on activities to teach nutrition, gardening, cooking, and exercise classes to about 40 participants. Such focused attention on healthy living yields high results: out-of-control blood sugar levels plummet, there is significant weight loss, and patients report having far more energy.
This was Margie's first time volunteering with us. Since we absolutely cannot do this work without the awesome volunteer power that makes these programs possible, we like to feature volunteers every now and then. This month, we highlight Margie. The simplest way to tell her story is to let her tell it in her own words. Enjoy the interview below.
What is your full name and occupation?
Margie Colclough. I'm a retired speech language pathologist who continues to work because I love working with people.
Where do you live?
Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. Our Okanagan Valley is known for its quality wines and fresh fruit. We've got the highest concentration of organic growers in North America.
And how did you come to be interested in nutrition and health?
When I was young, I wanted to be a nutritionist. It’s funny, because I didn’t know a thing about healthy eating. Decades later, my brother-in-law warned me that, since my genetics were poor, I better make some lifestyle changes if I wanted a long, quality life.
Since I had spent much of my life up to that time battling many illnesses, I began to investigate lifestyle changes. Once I started making a shift to a plant-based diet, my health really improved.
How did you come to partner with Brenda Davis?
I met Brenda at a conference where she was speaking. I bought her first book, and our paths kept crossing after that initial meeting. Many years later, Brenda and I began a non-profit society, Okanagan Health Forum, which provides educational events every 2 years for physicians, other healthcare professionals and the general public on the benefits of plant-based nutrition.
Is it catching on? Are you building momentum with these events?
Oh, yes! A number of doctors have adopted plant-based diets. Since our last event in October 2015, we are getting requests from health professionals, such as naturopathic physicians, who want to join our Board. And some of our Okanagan Health Forum public events attract up to 600 attendees.
How was your experience running an intervention on Majuro?
It was a life-changing experience. In North America, we have so many material things, and yet depression runs rampant. In the Marshall Islands people have homes the size of my living room and yet they are joyful, happy, friendly people. The Western world has so much to learn from them.
What were you doing, day to day?
Under Brenda and Tanner’s direction, I developed resources (e.g. participant record forms, handouts, shopping lists, etc.) as well as new recipes and menus. Although gardening in the North Pacific is very different from Canada, Tanner allowed me to assist with gardening activities. I helped with “Teaching Nuggets,” where participants learned how to adapt the nutrition info into useful strategies for their lives. I also spent a lot of time connecting with participants, answering their questions, and just generally supporting them so that they could succeed.
Have you run similar programs, before?
I've been doing CHIP—Complete Health Improvement Program—for 15 years. It's presenting the fundamentals of food and exercise. Actually, that's the reason I went to Majuro. When I was unsure of how much I could contribute to the Marshall Islands program, Brenda reassured me, "You do CHIP programs all the time. The 177 Intervention will be just like doing CHIP at home."
Tell me about the 177 Program.
The program provided three meals each day, instruction in gardening, exercise, and food preparation for about 40 participants. They also received glucometers and instruction on taking their own blood sugars. There were daily presentations on diabetes, nutrition, and cooking classes.
Since many Marshall Islands people believe their diabetes is a result of their exposure to the nuclear explosions, this program is so valuable, because it provides people with the truth about why we get diabetes. It's empowering for them to learn that by adopting a new lifestyle they can conquer this disease that has destroyed so many of their people.
Were there moments on Majuro which stood out to you?
There were so many moments that were precious. People entered the program with many health challenges. A few participants walked with canes because they had leg pain associated with their disease, or they had an amputation because of their diabetes. Two weeks later, at graduation, there weren’t many dry eyes as one participant walked up to receive his certificate without using a cane. He no longer had leg pain.
A young woman shared that she always struggled getting out of bed because she was so exhausted and dizzy. After five days into the program, her dizziness was gone, and getting out of bed was no longer a problem.
There was a man in his early 30s, a proud father of two, who came resentfully to the program. His family was concerned about his health and insisted he participate. His anger was evident. After a few days, a smile appeared on his face. By the end of the two-week program, he was a most grateful man. He said he used to be up all night on the computer, until 5 or 6 a.m. He ate terribly, and he didn't know the importance of sleep.
The program provided him with the consistency he needed, the nutrition his body craved, and the education his mind needed to put it all together. His parting words were: "My life is totally changed." He felt renewed. He was so excited about his new lifestyle, which allowed him to feel well and be the father and husband he wanted to be.
How many people get to experience all that in a 3-week volunteer holiday? Canvasback is doing amazing work, and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it.
We look forward to the next time Margie joins us for a life-changing mission in the Pacific. If you would like to know more about our work, visit our about page. For a short explanation of the 177 Program, you can read an article from our latest ONBOARD newsletter.