Kai CoLAB changing the food environment in Otara

A group of community members and leaders living and working in Otara have joined forces to improve the food environment in their community, with an aim to make healthy choices the easiest choice.

The Otara Kai CoLABoration team brings together local mums, The Diabetes Projects Trust, Southseas Healthcare, The Southern Initiative and Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura.

“We want to uplift Otara as a healthy place,” says community member Malia Fononga.

Creating that healthy place has a multi-pronged approach. Over the coming months the CoLAB team will explore initiatives to connect churches with healthy food, support vendors in providing healthy alternatives, promote cultural community ownership of gardens and food production and, improve access to healthy and affordable food for families.

Caleb Va’a of Southseas Healthcare says his vision is for wellbeing to be a priority for Otara families.

 “Living healthier and eating healthier, is key to that outcome,” he says. “I want to see families taking this seriously because a lot of our mums and dads are dying from diseases like diabetes and, there is little understanding about the correlation between these diseases and lifestyle habits.”

The youth worker wants younger people taking more responsibility for their health, to break the cycle of these types of preventable, chronic diseases. He also wants to see an increase in availability for more affordable, healthy food options.

“Our low income families are struggling to buy healthy options because of the prices, so they resort to buying foods that are unhealthy,” he adds.

Diana Anderson of Diabetes Project Trust agrees and says the Kai CoLABoration is helping inform her community outreach.

“By connecting across these organizations and community, I have a greater understanding of the health challenges and achievements and, how we can develop solutions for the future.”

The CoLAB team are focusing their future on two key areas; Food supply – with social enterprise and pre-prepared food bags being some of the practical solutions discussed and, youth leadership – supporting the younger generation to drive and champion change.

To successfully achieve these goals, the team are looking to expand. The call has been put out to individuals or groups with an interest, living and working in Otara, to join in and help design and implement community-driven strategies.

“We are lucky to have such a mix of people thinking outside the box to change the food environment in this community,” says Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura Coach Erin McCulloch. “It is exciting to see the ideas of these local champions, become reality.”