WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA 9) --- Seventeen percent of children in America, ages 2 to 19, suffer from obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vera Oyé Yaa-Anna, a native of Liberia, dedicates her life to stopping bad eating habits in the District's youth.
Yaa-Anna or "Auntie Oyé" started her healthy food workshops in 1998 with Oyé Palaver Hut, Inc.
Palaver Hut means "cultural hub of the village" in West African culture. This non-profit organization incorporates cooking and storytelling time, so children, 2 to 5 years old, learn the importance of healthy eating habits.
"We cook a lot," said Aaron Perkins, a 5-year-old student of Auntie Oyé's food program.
"I like cilantro and couscous and all the things we make," Perkins said.
Auntie Oyé stresses the importance of eating natural foods like kale, spinach and fresh fruits.
"We do have a big obesity problem and this epidemic is going to consume a lot of our resources. We want to make sure that everybody is healthy, especially the children and their parents," said Auntie Oyé.
Auntie Oyé's food program is based on her childhood experiences in Liberia, Africa. Now, she shares her culinary knowledge throughout the District in three day care centers and 10 public schools.
"I don't eat hotdogs or hamburgers. I don't eat any of that. I have to go the market to purchase, because I went to the market when I was 5 to get the food and that's how I was taught, and it's that information I'm passing down," said Auntie Oyé.
Oyé Palaver Hut's food program engages with over 500 children in the District each month. Enrollment is free.
Perkins has attended the food program since he was 2.5 years old. Auntie Oyé says he has an "old soul." As Auntie Oyé's cooking assistant, he willingly helps her prepare meals.
"He's my tester. If I prepared something he doesn't like it, chances are, nobody will like it," said Auntie Oyé.
Auntie Oyé's food lessons extend beyond her cooking program. Perkins' mother says her son has been able to influence the entire family.
"Paying attention to him and noticing that he wants to eat healthy...I've lost 40 pounds by changing my eating habits, walking. So we are all doing it as a family," said Velle Perkins.
NOTE: Gannett Foundation has given a donation to Oyé Palaver Hut.
Written/Produced by: Elizabeth Jia
WUSA 9 & WUSA9.com
Previously Aired: 9/17/2012