In April 2022, Healthy Families South Auckland (HFSA) and Auckland Council joined forces to introduce an initiative called the Church Plant – Exercise Containers in two locations: the Tokaima’ananga Ōtara Tongan Methodist Parish Church and EFKS Samoa East Tamaki.
The Church Plant serves as a connector between local government and local Pasifika communities to foster innovative, inclusive, and sustainable solutions for physical activations. By investing in this effort, Pasifika communities will be empowered to utilise churches for building capabilities and finding solutions to address health and well-being challenges in their communities.
The trainers are all congregation members including Veisinia Vahaunga from the Tokaima’ananga’s Mou’i Lelei who has gained valuable leadership and training skills to help people get physically active at the Methodist church.
Veisinia Ha’unga, 27, a school teacher from Ōtara, is fondly known by her fellow Church Plant trainers as “the one you hear before you see,” as her energy is infectious. Growing up in the Tokaima’ananga Ōtara Tongan Methodist Parish, Veisinia cherishes the memories of church life which has played a significant role in shaping her perspective on family and faith.
In a candid talanoa session, we delved into Veisinia’s journey, discussing her experiences in the church community and her participation in the Church Plant prototype.
Thank you for your time. How did you find the Church Plant experience?
I found it to be challenging yet rewarding. At first, it was nerve-wracking to stand up in front of people and lead them in our Zumba exercises but I quickly gained my confidence and the congregation members became more receptive to me. Not only did I see myself in a new light, my congregation did too!
What did you learn about your fellow congregation members?
They are open to change as long as you are supportive of their efforts! After our sessions, participants would approach me and tell me that I was doing a great job. They would encourage us to keep going and tell us they were taking our routines back to their workplaces so they could keep moving during their lunch breaks.
They would tag and give us a shout out on their social media.
There were also non-verbal indicators as well as participants were happier, enjoying themselves and letting loose as our sessions went on.
They would also give us feedback on what they didn’t like, and we as the trainers would adjust our workout sessions accordingly.
Our people are vocal, whether it be online or in person, so when they say something, you know they genuinely felt the need to share!
Why did you become a trainer for the Church Plant?
Before I joined, I only saw the church as a place of worship but I realise through the Church Plant, we can do so much more with our church fāmili (family). Movement is another way we can foster our sense of community plus the added benefits of taking care of your mental health, body, mind, and spiritual wellbeing.
For me, I wanted to prioritise my physical wellbeing and reimagine the many ways I use movement to benefit my health.
Do you think you have achieved your goal?
Definitely! I am enjoying the way the Church Plant has changed the dynamic of our church members. It has always been kept to the traditional ways of looking at the Church where we come to worship, share fellowship, youth activities, and so forth. Now, people are a lot more open to discussing their health journey and help keep each other accountable. Naturally, we still use the church as our place for worship but now we get to add in regular movement sessions which is exciting .
I take my routines and practise at home. My mum walks in on me in the lounge and I’m dancing to the latest Daddy Yankee (Reggaeton artist) song and trying out new moves to share in our next session. I don’t see it as an exercise, I see it as a painless, inclusive, and fun alternative to get our people moving.
How has this impacted your relationship with your fellow trainers?
Like most of the people in our church, we grew up alongside each other and have a close relationship. Which is important because I’m a firm believer in the idea that the people you surround yourself with have a great influence on your health. To see us go through this journey together is special.
We regularly catch up outside of church and do a status check up on each other. If someone can’t take a session, another will quickly jump in to get the ball rolling.
When we have our talanoa about our programmes, they’re comfortable to share their thoughts and are keen to flesh their ideas to suit our programme and participants. We’ve definitely all gained a lot of confidence (laughs) which is great to see.
Where to from here for Mou’i Lelei?
We are looking to stay proactive in our sessions and keep on being innovative with our programme. Having the support of HFSA and Auckland Council has given us the confidence to talanoa and plan ahead. Watch this space.
Famous last words?
‘Oua lau e kafo kae lau e lava which means stay positive and count your blessings. [END]