Improving health outcomes for our Pacific People through HVAZ Churches

Recently, our HVAZ team concluded the Garden4Health programme which started over lockdown last year. A key leader of this was Masuisui Sam Partsch, HVAZ Coordinator from ProCare. He reflects on the journey below.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to change the way we interacted with one another in order to protect ourselves and others from the virus. During the first lockdown, Pacific people were faced with many challenges. Their physical, mental, and especially spiritual wellbeing was affected as social outings and connections such as church services were restricted, and other activities like group exercises were put on hold. There was panic as people were navigating unchartered territories.

Despite this, there were some advantages. Families were finding quality time with each other and were back at sharing meals together in their homes, the perfect opportunity for healthy eating guidelines to revamp.

Inspired by social media through sharing photos and experiences, the ProCare and HVAZ whānau thought to engage HVAZ Community members in a vegetable gardens competition and utilise lockdown time. This was well received by the HVAZ community as a way to safely share stories, photos and build connections, while also learning new skills.

Teaching gardening skills is not new to the HVAZ programme, it was originally introduced in 2009. We are very fortunate that Garden4Health, Diabetes Auckland and Heart Foundation of Aotearoa continue to be part of this initiative.

During lockdown, the aim was for ten families per church to participate, and the Health Committees were tasked with organising the programme.
In the end, almost 200 families participated; 149 HVAZ families, three Community Gardens (one pre-school, two church gardens), plus 42 non HVAZ families who were inspired and also participated (but not included in the competition). This was an average of over ten families per church group as anticipated.

Globally, other families commented and shared the learnings from this journey. My own cousin shared photos of his vege patch from Samoa!
The learnings were as plentiful as the harvests:

  • ‘We learned different ways of growing, planting and soil prep from all creative ideas’
  • ‘Our green salad tastes different from our own backyard’
  • ‘I have tried other salad and soup recipes shared by others'
  • ‘It helped with the budget’ (especially during lockdown when some veges were expensive)'
  • ‘Gardeners utilised different spaces available to plant and grow. Against walls, as a hedge, in the form of a food forest, in raised boxes, pots, recycled containers, old tyres and many other stuff that can hold soil in’
  • ‘It was good exercise, relieves stress, improves mood. It is empowering, it is fun, creative and relaxing’
  • ‘Access to vegetables and greens inspired us to include them in our cooking’
  • ‘With my many health conditions, I can eat more greens most days’
  • Children got involved and planted their own veges!
  • Many were inspired to take their garden skills and create more fun activities
  • Families shared knowledge and talanoa between different generations as they were watering or weeding their gardens.
  • Gardeners requested to be educated more on plants and veges that are good for the different seasons.

On March 26 we held an awards presentation for all those who took part in the Garden4Health challenge. It was an opportunity to reflect on the knowledge and skills gained. These families are sowing seeds of healthy lifestyle changes and influence for our fanau.

  • We would like to acknowledge those who sponsored the prizes:
  • Le Afioga ia Toleafoa Leatuao Larry Tupa’i Lavea ma le Faletua ia Helen and Aiga Energy
  • Pastor Kevin and Ezzyuso Production for documenting this garden journey and support on social media.
  • Garden4Health team for providing helpful garden tips and responding to all our queries.
  • We thank our Health Committees for their support in getting our members to participate.
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