Take up water and put down the fizzy drink!
That’s the wero (challenge) that 52 West Auckland schools have accepted, ending the consumption of sugary drinks and elevating the importance of wai (water) through a student-led approach.
“The success of the Pro Water Movement hinges on its unique approach to driving change, with school management supporting students to lead change within their own schools,” explains Healthy Families Waitākere Manager, Kerry Allan.
Early in the process, each school appointed a Leadership Group of willing students passionate about the benefits of water.
Healthy Families Waitākere then worked alongside these groups to understand why students valued water and how they would like to see it promoted within their school. This led to several school initiatives, including developing policies, inclusion in the curriculum and improving the water fountain infrastructure in schools.
The groups also completed a mapping exercise showing where their existing water fountains were located, whether they were functional, and current ‘dry spots’ – sites that were popular with students but didn’t currently have a water fountain.
“The students then presented the findings to their school management, who worked to bring these changes to life for the school. The student-led approach was well-received, with principals and teachers remarking on how great it was to see such burgeoning leadership from the student groups,” says Kerry.
Many of the initiatives highlighted water within the Te Ao Māori context, including students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi, who put their own spin on the water-only challenge by extending a wero (challenge) through the form of a haka, composed by a year 13 student, Tuake Pohatu. Students frequently perform it to encourage others to ditch sugary drinks and make water their first choice.
“It’s grown out from our kura, to the kohanga, to our marae and to our community, spreading the whole mindset around hauora and healthy lifestyles,” says principal Hare Rua.
The change has had a big impact on former student, Tiraroa Hetaraka. Since 2018, he has lost over 20 kilograms and been inspired to live a much more active life, regularly working out at the school’s gym.
“We used to have only one water fountain which was not in the best shape,” he says. “So it was normal for everyone to have fizzy or energy drinks instead. Now we have six new water fountains which we all use to fill up our water bottles. We’ve all taken up the challenge of drinking only water at school and you can definitely see the health benefits. It’s been pretty good for us, so no doubt it would be good for other schools too.”
The Trusts Community Foundation (TTCF) provided funding to improve the water infrastructure in the schools.