Pacific church achieves a CHIP first

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CHIP supporters Vincent Toailoa, Pastor Fa’afetai Matai, Fono Osborne and Kerry Gosset (NZ health worker).

Addington Samoan Seventh-day Adventist Church has become the first Pacific church in New Zealand to complete the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP).

Twenty-three families (comprising 44 participants) completed the 10-week evidence-based program, which is aimed at implementing healthy lifestyle changes to prevent and facilitate the reversal of common lifestyle diseases. The participants are hoping to influence others through their example.

Pastor Fa’afetai Matai initiated the running of CHIP for his Christchurch-based church, using funding from the New Zealand Ministry of Pacific Peoples (MPP) as part of its “Resilient and Healthy Pacific Peoples” COVID-19 recovery fund, and also through the support of Adventist Health Ministries in New Zealand.

When talking about the impact and benefits of CHIP, Pastor Matai said, “There is a real challenge with our church family in regard to non-communicable disease. Education I believe is one vital tool that can help alleviate the issues by highlighting some of the causes and present real solutions of which the people will have to implement.

“The benefits of CHIP will go a long way for most of these guys—perhaps all of them—and to change the culture of the church in terms of diet we have to tackle the problem when we admit each one of us is responsible for our own health.”

Twenty-three families participated in the program.

Two new facilitators were trained: Vincent Toailoa and Fono Osborne. Addington Samoan is the first Pacific church in New Zealand to complete the program and have trained facilitators.

The results were amazing with overall weight loss, lowered blood pressure and reduced blood glucose levels among the participants. Some participants’ GPs were astonished at the change, commending their patients to keep doing what they were doing. One participant had his medication reduced as his blood pressure had dropped so much.

Pastor Matai has already started looking at ways his church can support other Pacific Adventist churches in the region to run CHIP. He has started conversations with other Pasifika denominations to see if they would consider running CHIP in their churches too.

Darren Folau, Regional Partnerships Community Initiatives manager for MPP, attended the graduation service for the church.

“I found the entire Addington Samoan CHIP program completely necessary and so refreshing,” he said.

“To see it led by Vincent and Fono made the biggest difference in terms of uptake and genuine interest and participation. By training facilitators within the organisation, this brings a sustainability element to the program design and, additionally, ensuring the delivery was done in the Samoan language meant that the specific nuances and key messages of the program were being heard in a culturally appropriate way.

“The education around healthy food choices and especially being able to make Pacific food entirely healthy—and delicious—is how our tupuna (ancestors) viewed food and somewhere along the way our generation has forgotten this.

“The other key aspect to the program was that it was intergenerational and having entire families learning together will achieve so much more than if one person goes and tries to introduce the learnings on their own. The material and resources are fantastic and more than just a token workbook that normally gets put away with other course material.”

The graduation dinner featured all plant-based dishes.

It is believed that one of the main reasons why the program was so well attended and supported was because it had the full support of the church.

“It is so important when wanting to make cultural change that you get as many people on board as possible,” said New Zealand Pacific Union Conference health director Adrielle Carrasco.

“Having the full support from church leadership, including the pastor and elders, the health team and from government agencies, means that we will see a real change with everyone working together and making lifestyle changes as a whole. I pray that the positive health habits the church has implemented over these past weeks will stay with them well into the future.”

Addington Samoan church has now enrolled in research to be conducted by the University of Otago. Church members will be part of a cohort whose lives be observed over a 12-week period looking at the effect an increase in fruit and vegetables has on their overall wellness.