Inspiring healthy change in the Pacific community
Published: 2 September 2019
A Facebook ad for Pacific Heartbeat’s course, Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition, caught the attention of Susie Nonoa while she was caring for her sick dad.
Susie spent a lot of time with her dad in the 18 months before he passed away and every time she saw the ad she thought "that looks interesting". Then one day she clicked on the link.
"Dad was my motivation – he lived a very healthy life, he ate well and kept fit even though he was a chronic asthmatic. I thought that doing the course would really help both myself, my family and others in the Pacific community. I would often hear Dad say, ‘we need to eat well, we need to stay healthy'."
Susie says that within her and her husband’s family there were loved ones who had died prematurely due to health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure.
"I am sad about the stats of our Pacific Island people dying, I didn’t realise how bad it was. That was a big motivation. We need to change this. I thought about my brother-in-law who died in his early 40's from a heart attack, he was way too young."
Inspired to create change
With the health of her family and the Pacific Island community at the top of her mind, Susie signed up. She said her family were very supportive of her decision to join the course, often chasing her out the door to go to class when she wasn’t feeling motivated.
"The class, tutors and the environment were relaxing and fun, so I always enjoyed it once I was there. I liked interacting with many others in our class and the healthy meal examples we got to enjoy every week were great too! Takui (course leader) would always have something nutritious prepared."
The course also got Susie thinking about people she knew who would have benefited from learning about healthy eating and putting it into practice.
"I sat in class listening and thinking 'I wish more of our Pacific people would participate in this course'."
Inspired, Susie set to work on her family’s eating habits. She looked at the types of food they were eating and the portion sizes and became more conscious of what she was putting in the trolley at the supermarket.
"I focused more on the nutritious stuff – suddenly there were more veges in the trolley, more fruit, less bread, brown rice, instead of white rice that everyone loves. It’s mind changing what we have learned."
Susie says her husband and sons are "average Pacific Island males and love food", but they were on board with the changes. She also discussed the benefits of the course with the wider family, talking to nieces and nephews about the importance of staying healthy and being active.
"I think we (Pacific Island people) see the connections but have allowed ourselves to develop bad habits that need to be reversed. Once the light goes on, when you realise that too many of us are dying early, we know something needs to change."
Making healthy choices
Susie has experienced her own share of health scares over recent years, including having 'sky-high' blood pressure at a check-up not long before she started the course. She says the course helped motivate her to do better.
"I wanted to break that cycle and the easiest way was to change my lifestyle. I’ve joined the gym and roped in my husband too, and we’re both enjoying the different types of exercising programs available in our local community.'
Susie acknowledges that changing is not always easy for people. She is thrilled that family members have taken on the challenge and some have lost over 5kgs so far.
"I talked with my son and he was keen to try too. He started making little changes to his diet and fitness. He’d come home from work, go straight into the garage and you could hear him working hard on his exercise program. He is now more aware of healthier food options, he doesn’t stay up late eating unhealthy food, and he drinks more water.
"Think about your future. Like I said to my husband and children, I want to be around to see our posterity grow up. That should be another motivation to our Pacific Island people, to see our posterity grow up, seeing them graduating from courses like this and to see them have a healthy, enjoyable life.
"As Pacific Island people, we may not know a lot about the range of healthier options, but if we learn about the options it would increase longevity. If we are consistent, show plenty of love and encouragement to those willing to start a journey of change, great things will happen. I am proud of myself for completing this course, because it is something I promised my dad – that I would learn more, and do something productive when it comes to health."
Pacific Heartbeat offers a variety of nutrition courses which can help you, your family and community eat better and live well.
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