It was a casual tearoom conversation that grew into a broad-ranging community health project to combat diabetes.
And as a result of that chat over the teacups, Zespri staff will roll out a week-long diabetes education and prevention programme at Arataki Primary School in Mount Maunganui.
The Arataki project will focus on the school’s Maori language unit pupils and will include a free healthy breakfast, community games day, free blood sugar testing and the creation of a student-illustrated book.
The project sprang from a chance conversation between Zespri colleagues Juliet Ansell and Amy Porter. Amy, who works with Maori kiwifruit growers, was horrified to learn from her scientist co-worker that Maori and Pacific island people have a hugely-elevated risk of developing type two diabetes.
“I’m Ngati Tuwharetoa, from the King Country, so this is about my whanau too,” Amy says.
“When Juliet told me they are 50 per cent more likely than non-Maori to get this preventable form of the disease, we started talking about things we could do to educate and help locally.”
The conversation, which sprang from Juliet’s health science research around kiwifruit being particularly good at regulating blood sugar levels, quickly spread beyond the walls of the international fruit marketing company.
Researcher and Doctor Anna Rolleston, who is director of the Tauranga-based Centre For Health, became involved as an advisor.
Arataki School principal Shelley Blakey says the project will focus on the school’s 86-student bilingual Kopukairoa unit, but will also involve the wider school, parents and caregivers.
“We agreed we wanted to get the information to younger kids and teach them how to avoid the disease,” Amy says.
“People are getting diabetes at a younger age now, but we also knew kids would take the message home to their families and we’re aiming to bring whanau into the school to get involved and be tested.”
Amy says the education and events programme has been developed over six months and its focus on general health and nutrition, rather than just diabetes, aligns with the national curriculum.
“But of course, it also needs to be fun for the children. So there’ll be plenty of games and prizes and we’ll have our smoothie bikes there, where you mix a healthy smoothie using pedal power.”
During the week, the students will also help to illustrate a book on diabetes and then receive copies.
Amy says child-focused educational resources are scarce and this one, penned by a local writer Debbie McCauley, will be in both English and te reo Maori.
“We live in this community and so do many of our growers and orchard workers. This is Zespri’s way of giving back.”
The Arataki project will roll out on Monday, November 13, and will encompass World Diabetes Day the following day.