Tongan congregation uses ASB Summer Starter to encourage community-wide health efforts

Pastor Siaosi Kei, right, and the Garden City Fellowship Tongan group take a walk around Wycola Park.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Pastor Siaosi Kei, right, and the Garden City Fellowship Tongan group take a walk around Wycola Park.

A Tongan congregation is taking part in the ASB Summer Starter to encourage all Pasifika communities to live healthily.

More than 50 from Pastor Siaosi Kei's church group in Hei Hei are taking part in the annual fun run as part of an ongoing effort to prioritise the health of themselves and their wider community.

Rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke remains high among Pasifika people and life expectancy is about four years less than the overall New Zealand population, according to the Ministry of Health.

Pastor Siaosi Kei and the Garden City Fellowship Tongan group take a walk around Wycola Park.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Pastor Siaosi Kei and the Garden City Fellowship Tongan group take a walk around Wycola Park.

Kei said he and his congregation had been doing a weekly "prayer walk" for more than a year and often organised social touch rugby, volleyball and basketball games.

However, the Summer Starter would be a new experience for most of them, he said.

"When the idea came to us, I felt like it may be something new for our kids to be introduced to – and they welcomed the idea," he said.

"Health is one of the priorities of our church . . . This is part of our life journey, to take care of our physical health, [but] it's also a concern."

Kei said his goal now was to engage with other communities, and he had already formed a group of about 200 with the shared goal of better health, physically and nutritionally.

"What we're doing is we are inviting our friends, our non-church friends, to come with us walking and exercising . . . They like the way we're doing it. We walk and exercise, we pray and cheer.

"We are not doing this for only us, we are doing this for the community as well."

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Efforts had also extended to planting vegetable patches in the homes of his congregation, as part of the well-rounded effort for health that was "not just spiritual," he said.

Healthy Families Spreydon-Heathcote has been working in Christchurch to prevent chronic diseases and with Sport Canterbury supplied Kei and his congregation entry packs into this year's ASB Summer Starter.

Manager Jill Borland said she thought Kei's leadership was "fantastic" and she hoped his congregation's efforts would inspire other communities to make important changes.

"He's an absolute champion . . . Maori and Pasifika are over-represented in a lot of those statistics and that's for many reasons.

"[But] it's not solely Maori and Pasifika and, actually, as society is becoming more multi-cultural and immigrants are adapting to the Western diet, their health concerns are escalating as well. It's not specific to any population, it impacts us all."

* Register now to enter the 2016 ASB Summer Starter at summerstarter.co.nz

 - Stuff

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