Skip to main content

How a community-led health program with Japanese roots is helping Winnipeggers


A community-led health program running for decades is looking into why it's effective at helping people stay healthy.

It's called Hans Kai, which translates to 'group meeting' in Japanese.

The program brings neighbours together to learn about wellness and the importance of staying connected long after their education on health is done.

"Instead of going to the doctor and saying, 'oh yeah, you have to eat more of this, or you have to be more active,' it's letting you determine what's important to you, setting your own goals and doing that with the support of a group that's in a similar kind of situation," said Michelle Kirkbride, the community development coordinator at Norwest Community Co-op.

She explained the idea for Hans Kai came from a community health trip to Japan taken by a NorWest director.

Hans Kai starts with a nine-session health school on different wellness pillars like diet, social supports and access to services.

Afterwards, the group stays together, makes its own agenda, and meets up once or twice a month.

The program has been running in Winnipeg for more than a decade, and early research shows Hans kai helps especially with mental health.

"We want to know why the program works, not just does it work," said Kirkbride.

"Investigating participants' experiences is going to tell us how the program works, what are the mechanisms that make the program work," said Margherita Cameranesi, a clinical psychologist & MITACS postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba.

She is running a randomized clinical trial on what makes Hans Kai effective.

Participants are followed for two years. Their physical and mental health are measured. There are also interviews and focus groups at different points along the way.

"So instead of being like, okay, what are the things you're struggling the most with -- now it's like okay, what was your experience in the past six months that you were in the program?" Cameranesi explained.

Hans Kai participant Myrna Evaristo knows about being active. The Zumba instructor has been teaching classes for years at the NorWest Community Co-op.

She later joined Hans Kai, the program she was teaching, because she herself was interested in more ways to be healthy.

"Before attending the Hans Kai program, I [didn't] know about eating healthy," she said.

It's nearly been four years since joining a group and they still meet regularly, and each time they do, they measure their blood sugar and blood pressure.

Evaristo, who is prone to diabetes, says her biggest change since joining Hans Kai is eating less sugar.

"I love to eat sweets but now its in moderation," said Evaristo.

She added she's also fostered new friendships and a support network to help stay healthy.

Kirkbride said NorWest Community Co-op holds the Canadian patent to the Hans Kai program.

It's trained people across Canada, except Newfoundland and PEI, and in the U.S. to deliver it.

The next step is taking it internationally to Kenya. Top Stories

Stay Connected