Weekend Sun   

Giraffing around

Sharnae Hope alongside Kiwi kid role models Harold the giraffe and Michael Chemis. Photo: Nikki South.

If you grew up in the last two decades, you may remember buzzing with excitement as you lined up in front of a bus ready to meet the famous man in yellow - or should I say giraffe in yellow.

Harold the giraffe has been a part of Kiwi kids’ lives since 1988, creating fond memories of learning all about the human body, friendships, their identity and food and nutrition.

Through Harold I learnt some key messages which I have taken with me into adulthood, like what junk food does to my body, how to maintain lifelong friends, and that being different is okay.

So when I was given the opportunity to interview Western Bay of Plenty’s Harold the giraffe, let’s just say my inner eight-year-old was more than thrilled. 

Harold, who doesn’t want to disclose his real age, is shy and timid and only responds to his closest colleagues and friends, such as Michael Chemis from WBOP Life Education Trust, who has more than 24 years’ experience educating kids.

Michael says Harold started teaching because he had family members in the same profession and always got along with kids.

“He has cousins all over the country all called Harold - and the females are called Haroldina. He thought it was something he could do as well,” says Michael.

“Life Education is almost like an institution, it’s been a part of most Kiwi children’s upbringing at school, and so many people remember Harold because of it.

“There are some important messages that we impart to kids, so we always hope that plants a seed.”

Michael says these days the way he and Harold now educate kids is very different, but the messages haven’t really changed.

“Our philosophy is all around the magnificence of the human body, and we also look at the fact that we are all unique. There is no-one else on the planet like us, never has been and never will be, and then there’s the need to show respect to ourselves, to the environment, and to other people.”

Each school picks messages they think will be most beneficial for the kids, which are based around three major questions that the kids want answered.

From these questions, educators will put lessons together and send them back to the schools to be approved.

Michael says: “We often talk to kids and ask ‘do you need to be friends with everyone?’ and little kids will say ‘yeah’.

“From there we work out that in friendships you have to spend time with people. You don’t do that with most people, but you can still be friendly, so we look at the importance of that.”

Over the years it also seems that Harold has started covering the bigger issues, such as drugs and alcohol.

Michael says they discuss the effects of helpful and harmful substances with children around the ages of 10-13, but sometimes the subject will come up with younger pupils as well.

“We never tell them they must or mustn’t use drugs - that’s up to the parents - but we will talk to older kids about how the human brain works, and how it’s still developing.

“Our advice is to delay the decision as much as possible, because all of the research shows that the younger a person starts using drugs, the more likely they will go on to have further problems.”

Life Education Trust relies heavily on donations and sponsorships to continue teaching the younger generation.

Michael says in Tauranga alone, it costs between $140,000 and $160,000 a year to keep two mobile classrooms going.

“We don’t receive funding from the government, so we require a lot of funding from national as well as local organisations,” he says. “Thanks to these kind donations we have been able to run for so long.”

To find out more about Life Education Trust or how to donate, go to: www.lifeeducation.org.nz

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