Mount Maunganui students praised for health book - Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Arataki School students have become published illustrators courtesy of a community project that aims to combat Type 2 diabetes.

Pupils from the school’s Māori language Kopukairoa unit drew the colourful artwork in a bilingual book that was written by Tauranga author Debbie McCauley and funded by Mount Maunganui-based kiwifruit marketing company Zespri.

Last week, almost 90 students saw their creation for the first time and each received a personal copy of ‘Māia the Brave – a Type 2 Diabetes Story’. Zespri has printed extra copies as gifts for the Arataki School library, Tauranga’s public libraries and to other school libraries around Tauranga.

The book is part of a wider education project, instigated and funded by Zespri, to help children and their families understand how lifestyle changes can halt progression of the preventable disease. In November last year, Zespri employees teamed up with local educators and medical experts to deliver a five-day health promotion and Type 2 diabetes prevention programme that included a free breakfast, games and lessons, as well as diabetes testing for parents and whanau.

The project has drawn praise from medical professionals who deal with diabetes at Kaitaia Hospital, Starship Hospital and Tauranga Hospital.

“It is a wonderful resource with wonderful artwork,” Starship Hospital paediatric nurse specialist Rita Sigley said after receiving an advance copy of the book. “The community should be proud that they were involved in sending such an eloquent but powerful message.”

Later this year, Zespri nutrition scientist Juliet Ansell will help deliver the education programme to another two schools in Te Kaha.

Ms Ansell and colleague Amy Porter initiated the project more than a year ago after discussing the fact that Māori are 50 per cent more likely than Europeans to develop preventable diabetes.

“We’re keen to play a part in fighting those dreadful statistics, especially given the link to our business through the benefits of kiwifruit in a healthy diet,” Ms Ansell says. “Once we understood how badly this preventable disease was affecting people in our community and how few resources there were for children, we had to find a way to help.

“I wish we could do more and we’d really like to see this programme grow. In the meantime, we’ve set aside a classroom set of these beautiful books to give Te Kaha students, as a gift from the pupils at Arataki.”

Author Debbie McCauley is working on a larger, hard-cover version of the book, which tells the story of a boy who helps his favourite aunt after she is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Ms McCauley, who also works at Tauranga’s city library, would love to see the educational book in every school and library in New Zealand.

On Monday, she and a teacher from the school read part of the book aloud in English and Māori.  Zespri staff then handed out copies to the children, with help from The Centre for Health clinic manager Hanna Lowe. The clinic offered advice and practical help with the school programme.