Youth voice delivers water refill stations in western Sydney schools

Western Sydney high school students are enjoying a healthier drink option and reducing their environment footprint thanks to a partnership between Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD), schools and local doctors.

Generous donations by the Mount Druitt and Hills doctors’ associations, with additional funding from each high school, allowed for the purchase, delivery, and installation of water refill stations in Chifley College Mount Druitt Campus, and Colyton, Erskine Park, Model Farms, Nepean Creative and Performing Arts, and Plumpton high schools.

The initiative was the brainchild of local high school students who participated in WSLHD’s peer-led health leadership program Students As LifeStyle Activists (SALSA) and Youth Voices, delivered by the Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU).

Nepean Creative and Performing Arts high school prefect Kazia Murphy, a former SALSA peer leader, explained the students needed a new option after bubblers were closed due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The cool water is extremely beneficial in summertime as we do get very hot days and it is hard to keep cool during physical education lessons,” Kazia said.

Erskine Park High School principal Brenda Quayle added: “Our schools used student voice to determine a key need for students to have access to cold drinking water for their health and wellbeing, recognising that students should never have to pay for access to fresh water.”

The new water refill stations not only encourage students to choose water as a healthy beverage but also decrease the purchase of bottled water.

“It’s a health and environmental win for the school community,” said Dr Kean-Seng Lim, president of the Mt Druitt Medical Practitioners Association.

PERU director Professor Smita Shah thanked the local general practitioners for their generosity, as well as Brenda Quayle for negotiating and coordinating the purchase and delivery of water refill stations.

“It is heartening to see our empowerment strategy of youth voice being actioned and supported by health and education,” Professor Shah said.

“This is a great example of the collective effort of the community towards prevention of chronic health diseases and equity, despite the challenges of COVID-19.”

SALSA is an award-winning program designed to motivate students to increase physical activity and improve diet by empowering participants to be health advocates among their peers.

PERU has run the program in western Sydney high schools for over 15 years, reaching more than 21,000 students in that time with the support of the Western Sydney Primary Health Network (WentWest).