CuriousCity: What is that giraffe doing in there? video

ROSS Giblin/Dominion post

Harold the giraffe helps generations of New Zealand kids with skills for life. Kapa Te Aho tells what it is like to be a Life Education educator.

There is a young girl in Plimmerton dying to speak giraffeanese.

She may not realise it but, from her 45 minutes in the Life Education mobile classroom at Plimmerton School, what she really learnt about were the building blocks of society: helping others, being kind, emotions, and resilience.

She may later realise giraffeanese doesn't exist.

Life Education educator Kapa Te Aho with Harold.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Life Education educator Kapa Te Aho with Harold.

As the 7-year-old goes through her primary school years in the Porirua school she will be introduced to subjects including cyber bullying, drugs, and puberty.

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For this year 2 class, the subjects are resilience and reading emotions, told through a full bucket – the good feelings, and the empty bucket – the bad. There are posters of children – happy, sad, and angry, which the children eagerly identify then get asked to relate to.

Life Education educator - aka Harold the giraffe -  Kapa Te Aho teaching at Plimmerton School.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Life Education educator - aka Harold the giraffe - Kapa Te Aho teaching at Plimmerton School.

"Is there anything that makes you feel sad sometimes?"

"When no-one plays with me," a young girl answers with heartbreaking honesty.

They are weighty, important subjects all fronted through Life Education mascot, Harold the giraffe.

Plimmerton School pupils entranced by Harold the giraffe.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Plimmerton School pupils entranced by Harold the giraffe.

The person behind Harold this day in Plimmerton is educator Kapa Te Aho.

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Te Aho and Harold cover northern Wellington and may see 6500 children or more per year, ranging from the wealth of Whitby to the relative poverty of nearby Porirua East.

Around New Zealand there are 45 Harolds in as many Life Education trailers, reaching about 250,000 children in more than 1500 schools each year.

The children of Plimmerton School in the Life Education trailer.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

The children of Plimmerton School in the Life Education trailer.

Since being set up by Trevor Grice – who grew up malnourished, in poverty, then eventually in an orphanage – in the late 1980s, there have been thousands of school visits covering generations.

Te Aho remembers back as a young girl at Mahora School in Hastings when Harold came to visit her class. She remembers laughing when he talked about how drinking lots of water made him need the toilet, but the lesson stuck, and she still drinks water habitually.

Now it is her who plans the classes, tailored to each group, and manages them as they come through the specialised trailer parked in school grounds.

This is because Harold – and stop reading here if children are around – is not a real giraffe. All of Harold's talking is by the puppet "whispering" to Te Aho, who relays it to the mostly-believing 6 and 7 year olds in Kate Walker's year 2 class at Plimmerton School.

It does though pose a problem when Danika, 7, asks, "Can Harold whisper to me?"

Te Aho doesn't miss a beat as she explains why only she can talk to Harold.

"Us educators have to take lessons in talking giraffeanese," she explains. Danika seems content.

There are other questions from the children, hinting towards skepticism. One wants to see inside Harold's bedroom.

"We only let people look in the bedroom when they are in year 8."

As the children file back to class, one audacious young boy asks if Harold is a puppet.

"Harold still has feelings," Te Aho replies.

 - Stuff

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