CPPN graduate shares nutrition know-how across the Pacific

Last year Froline ‘Flo’ Tokaa graduated from the AUT Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition (CPPN) course delivered by Pacific Heartbeat (PHB) in conjunction with Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

Little did we know that she would carry her freshly acquired knowledge across the ocean to share with the people of Kiribati – the Micronesian island where the New Zealand resident was born.

Flo was supported by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, who work in Kiribati to enable lives of dignity and hope, by eliminating injustice and poverty through education and the promotion of health, nutrition and physical exercise. Starting in 2016, they were in discussion with AUT’s Professor Elaine Rush about how this could be done.

The outcome was that they gained funding from the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, supporting Flo to undertake the Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition (CPPN) course. They also hired her to share her nutrition knowledge with influential women in Kiribati – which has a population of around 118,000.

AUT gifted the course material rights for use in the Caritas Health Champions four-year programme and Elaine volunteered her time and provided academic support for Flo to design Kiribati’s own version of the CPPN, in Kiribati’s official language, te taetae ni Kiribati.

Flo receiving her Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition from Professor Elaine Rush, AUT

Flo (left) receiving her Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition from Professor Elaine Rush, AUT

Working with PHB, Elaine and Flo went to Kiribati on a ‘scoping trip’, supported by PHB Pacific health-materials resources.

Elaine saw the reality of how flat and narrow the islands are, with poor-quality soil – making it difficult for I-Kiribati (the people of Kiribati) to grow vegetables, although some fruit and fish are plentiful. Fresh, drinkable water is also scarce, as it must be collected in reservoirs or water tanks, which are not easily accessible or affordable.

The course is a success

Flo delivered her first two-week intensive CPPN course in Kiribati in early 2018 – a big commitment (and a bit of a juggling act) for Flo, who has three children with husband Barry, (also a CPPN graduate), in New Zealand and was in the middle of her Master’s degree at the time.

Following the success of her first CPPN course – attended by 30 people – Flo returned to hold two more courses, with even more participants. The level of demand reflects the relevance of the course for I-Kiribati.

The ‘island drums have been beating’ and Flo has been asked to hold other courses, as even more people are keen to attend, including people from the remote outer Kiribati islands.

Holding the course in the local language makes it accessible to more I-Kiribati. Flo adapted the course to be dynamic and engaging by adding exercise-to-music sessions in between topics. She also encourages previous graduates to share how the course has positively impacted them, their families and their communities.

Peer lead CPPN assessments

Peer lead CPPN assessments

Flo believes the most relevant topic for I-Kiribati was “Nutrients”, delivered as a ‘Nutrient Family Tree’. People who previously grew vegetable gardens with a focus on selling the produce, now know vegetables are ‘nutritional goldmines’. They see the health benefits of using their garden’s bounty as a food source for their family and community.

Now they bring delicious vegetables like watercress, pele leaves, non leaves, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, bok choy, breadfruit and papai straight from the garden to the table.

Participants also learned about healthier cooking methods and have made the shift to steaming food instead of boiling or frying. At church functions, meals are ‘plated-up’ to aid portion control and the only drink served is water. Some people have lost weight because of these changes and others have quit smoking now that they understand how it negatively impacts their health.

Women cooking around a table

Cooking practice

Graduates of the course go on to be ‘community champions’, sharing their knowledge at community nutrition sessions, using a lesson plan format and template designed by PHB Nutrition Trainer, Takui Langi. Flo says they’ve also found including a dramatic element is a fun and effective way to get messages across.

Pacific Heartbeat Nutritionist Sue Pirrit; Professor Elaine Rush; Flo; Pacific Heartbeat Nutrition Trainer, Takui Langi

From left to right: Pacific Heartbeat Nutritionist Sue Pirrit; Professor Elaine Rush; Flo; Pacific Heartbeat Nutrition Trainer, Takui Langi

Some CPPN graduates have organised a weight-loss challenge, setting up a Facebook page to share tips and challenges. Flo is organising prizes from New Zealand for the winners – a steamer and blender to complement their healthier lifestyle.

Making an impact

Flo’s Kiribati initiative has made such a significant impact that the President of Kiribati’s wife, Teiraeng Maamu, stepped up to present the CPPN certificates to the graduates of the second course – a great honour for Flo.

The president, Taneti Maamau, and the New Zealand High Commissioner to Kiribati, Michael Upton, also attended the graduation ceremony. 

Kiribati course graduates

Flo’s CPPN initiative also inspired the president’s wife to take on the role of Kiribati’s ‘nutrition patron’. Also High Commissioner Upton has allocated some Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade funds to support the possibility that one or two ‘nutritionally passionate’ I-Kiribati may be successful in obtaining an award to attend the next CPPN course in Auckland in August.

The CPPN is specifically designed to have a ‘ripple effect’, but Flo has helped take this to another level, (with grateful support), creating a ‘sea of change’ across the Pacific in Kiribati. Her incredible contribution towards changing the nutritional landscape of a nation is a shining example of how much passion and drive can achieve.

The CPPN has spread further than ever imagined – setting the ripple effect bar incredibly high!

Find out more about our CPPN course View all of our Pacific Nutrition courses