Ecole Centrale in Transcona is like many elementary schools in Winnipeg — full of energetic students, excited to learn and play, happy to be part of a caring, supportive environment.
And if it were like most schools, there would be at least one student suffering from the agonizing effects of childhood arthritis. The problem is that many teachers and other professionals working with kids are not aware of this fact.
In the case of Ecole Centrale, there are actually two students afflicted with this condition: sisters Natalie and Allison Tucker, in grades 4 and 2, respectively. This week, along with peers from their grades, they came together in the school library for an event that celebrated a special funding arrangement that will go a long way to helping children with arthritis.
To mark Childhood Arthritis Month, The Arthritis Society, Manitoba / Nunavut Division, announced it has received $13,000 from The Winnipeg Foundation to support the Childhood Arthritis Peer-to-Peer Education Program. This is the second grant from the Foundation for the high-demand program.
“Arthritis is one of the more common disorders resulting in chronic disability in children and adolescents in Canada under age 16, affecting more than 600 young people in Manitoba,” said Lynne McCarthy, Advisory Board Chair of The Arthritis Society Manitoba / Nunavut Division.
The Peer-to-Peer project provides university and college students in a variety of study streams — social work, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, kinesiology, education — with knowledge about childhood arthritis (CA).
Student volunteers trained by the Society deliver the program to their peers and to students at higher levels. The program goal is to build awareness of CA with future health care and education providers so children with this condition can be diagnosed faster and achieve improved quality of life.
“It certainly would have helped if it was in place when I was growing up,” said Colin Johnson, 15, who has lived with childhood arthritis since he was 19 months old.
Johnson, who is one of the volunteers delivering the Peer-to-Peer program, was on hand for the funding announcement. He explained the difficulties that kids with CA encounter when they are expected to do what other students are doing, either in gym class, on the playground or anywhere else.
“It’s helpful if people like a gym instructor or other teachers and students understand that the child is unable to physically do certain things,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who has a black belt in karate, has not let arthritis slow him down. He’s been working with the Arthritis Society for several years, raising awareness about this disorder and how, with some knowledge and understanding, students suffering from it can participate and be productive like any other student.
Richard Frost, the Chief Executive Officer of The Winnipeg Foundation, was at the event to make the announcement.
“The Winnipeg Foundation is pleased to continue supporting this valuable program,” said Frost. “The Foundation recognizes the important role of our health care and education providers in the lives of children, and we are confident this program will help kids with arthritis in Manitoba get the care they need.”
This new funding from the Foundation will help create a school reading program that will train volunteers to read books and speak to kids about the subject of childhood arthritis.
In the spirit of this renewed effort, Frost took the opportunity to read the award winning children’s book GrrrOUCH! to a library full of students, including Natalie and Allison Tucker. The book is about chronic pain, such as the kind that afflicts children with childhood arthritis.
After the storybook reading, the students had many questions for Frost about the work of The Winnipeg Foundation, philanthropy and to help people in need. They also had some queries about childhood arthritis, which were answered by Dr. Kiem Oen, (Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Rheumatology, University of Manitoba), who was also in attendance.