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How this journalist started a health blog for Filipinas

When Sareena Dayaram, founder of the blog Health Begins With Her, came back to Metro Manila earlier this year, she found herself in a totally different city. Even after nearly five years of working abroad as a journalist and more than four years of studying in the US, she is still being constantly surprised by the metropolis she grew up in.

“Manila is a different landscape from what it was when I left,” she told me. “I find that I’m frequently discovering and rediscovering what the city has to offer.”

So when Sareena found herself back home in Manila after leaving her job in Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong, she decided to do what probably would have failed in 2005, the year she left the Philippines to study abroad: blogging.

Around the World

Sareena has a rich history of experience in her field. She went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, US to take up her degree in broadcast journalism. Even as a student, she already showed her passion for the field when she joined the team of the student-run news channel ATVN.

“Students were responsible for scripting, producing, reporting, and anchoring nightly newscasts almost everyday. I got super excited and wanted to learn how a show came together, how to shoot and edit, and how to report for video,” she said.

“I also loved the idea of meeting interesting people and going to new places, and then being able to share those stories. From there I decided to apply to the Broadcast Journalism major at the Annenberg School of Communications [in USC].”

After graduating from university, she bagged her first job in 2009 as a producer in the Mumbai financial news channel ET Now, a part of India’s largest media conglomerate, The Times Group. She eventually worked her way to becoming a reporter, and then later an anchor for the channel.

In 2012, she left ET Now to join the Hong Kong bureau of Thomson Reuters, one of the three largest international news wire agencies in the world. She continued her stint as a reporter and producer in Reuters, where she would, out of her many other beats, meet and interview the co-founder of Apple, Inc. Steve Wozniack.

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Giving Back by Blogging

After 2 years in Reuters, she decided it was time to go back home.

“Living abroad for so long makes one not only appreciate home, but also broadens our horizons and teaches you new things that you're keen to bring back home,” she said.

While Sareena didn’t initially plan to set-up an online magazine, her extensive background in journalism and her innate desire to do something health-related eventually led her to the idea of Health Begins With Her.

“As I began to reconnect with my friends and observed their understanding of health, I began to realize the significance of women of the household as gatekeepers of health and how healthy women could lead to healthier households and communities,” she explained.

“It was then that I understood how important it was to grow up in a healthy environment since my mom is a nutritionist. So early on, she was able to instill a healthy mindset and habits in me, which is something that I always took for granted until now.”

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‘Trickle-Down Health’

The premise behind Health Begins With Her is simple, but powerful. Sareena believes that if the woman of the household begins to embrace the importance of health and being healthy, everyone around her benefits directly.

“I like to call this Trickle-Down Health,” she said, referencing the concept of trickle-down economics, which sees the further development and growth of upper-level income bracket — in this case, those who are already health-conscious and are leading healthy lifestyles — will “trickle down” to benefit the less fortunate — those who do not have a wealth of information on wellness and health.

Her website is not exclusive to moms, however. Her blog publishes posts that will be helpful to all women that proactively seek healthy living in: nutrition, environmentally-friendly beauty products, fitness, and in health and technology. Health Begins With Her is in the process of teaming up with nutritionists, fitness experts, and even doctors to help write and verify articles.

Asked why she chose to start in the Philippines, she said that it was because Philippines remains to be a very matriarchal society, thus making this country the best place to start her blog.

“I was born and raised here. I'm a Filipino citizen and I know that the Philippines is still very much a matriarchal society, more than any other place I've lived,” she said.

“The woman therefore has a crucial role in shaping our collective understanding of health and wellness. Filipina women are highly literate, empowered and influential — we're the ideal purveyors of healthy living in this country.”

[caption id="attachment_4145" align="aligncenter" width="640"]sareena on dragons back
hike Owning up to her blog, Sareena regularly goes out hiking, or hit the gym, to keep herself fit and healthy.[/caption]

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Patience and Courage

But putting together the blog was not easy at all for Sareena. Despite her time in the news, she still considers herself a newbie in the digital world. For one thing, she has never set up her own website. She had to learn everything from scratch, and for a while she had to do it all alone.

“On many days, it seemed like I was spending all-day working yet nothing was happening,” she recalled. “It was a lot of work, and still is, to take on alone as when I first started since I hadn't yet built up my team.”

It was also difficult for Sareena to push herself to continue full-force with the blog when she only had a small audience to begin with.

Because Sareena is conscientious about not only producing enough content for her website, she takes care to put together craft insightful pieces that actually value to their readers’ lives. This effort in itself — the planning and the writing of substantial posts — was time-consuming on its own.

But she presses on, because she believes that her blog, even if she must begin with a smaller audience, is what will eventually provide a long-term benefit for society at large.

“It is my humble mission to share with moms and future moms what it truly means to be healthy through knowledge from experts and practical advice,” she said.

“This is so they may be beacons for healthier homes and, in turn, healthier communities.

Health Begins With Her Today

Sareena is now doing better when it comes to managing the blog. Her website, as you will see today, is now filling up with posts, and definitely looks more than what a “digital newbie” can do.

She now also has a team of writers helping her produce content, and has since taken up online coding classes on Code Academy to get up to speed with customizing the entire blog. She remains to work on her blog full-time.

For those who are looking to start a blog for living, Sareena has some advice.

It may seem easy for Sareena to start a blog, owing to her background in news, but she even she had to struggle to make it work. For a while after starting her blog, “patience and courage more than anything else” was what kept her going when it seemed no one seemed to care.

She also gives importance to time management. Since brainstorming, and executing substantial content takes time, bloggers who don’t time wisely could lead to a very messy and flimsy blog.

“Stay committed to your blog. By that, I mean writing and producing insightful, thought-provoking articles on a regular basis. Make sure to add value to the lives of your readers in your own unique way and they’ll keep coming back for more.”

Most of all, especially for those who want their blog to carry a specific message, Sareena advises bloggers to believe and stand for something.

“Start connecting with people who believe in the same things. They'll be your evangelizers,” she added.

Check out Sareena's blog Health Begins With Her, and be part of a growing community of healthy Filipinas.