Waipa/King Country trustees and book committee members Kay Moir (left) and Donna Davies with Harold and the new picture book the group has published – Harold’s Spots. Photo / Dean Taylor

For well over 30 years Harold the Giraffe has been visiting Kiwi schools with his educator friends in their amazing mobile classrooms and, using fun interactive sessions, helping young people build their identities and make positive choices in a complex world.

Now Harold is looking at his own identity as he stars in a locally published picture book – Harold’s Spots – an uplifting story about learning to love the skin you are in – spots and all.

Harold the Giraffe is the principal mascot of the Life Education Trust; a nationwide health education provider, which has been supporting the health and wellbeing of children since 1988.

Students across the country look forward to his frequent visits to their schools, while adults remember him, and his messages of positivity and resilience, from their own school days.

In this area the Waipā–King Country branch of Life Education Trust runs a highly successful programme which saw demand increase to the point that a huge fundraising effort saw the commissioning of a second mobile classroom and appointment of a second educator for 2020.

That demand has continued to grow, so from the beginning of Term 3 both educators will be fulltime.

Harold and the team visit 60 schools in the Waipā–King Country area, reaching more than 8000 students and their families each year, its mobile classrooms ensuring children in small and remote areas still get to meet Harold.

The Life Education Trust programme is independent and does not receive any government funding, which means volunteer trustees have a huge role raising funds every year to keep the valuable service afloat. For more information about the work of the Waipā–King Country branch of Life Education Trust see below.

That work was seriously hindered during the pandemic, when none of the usual fundraising events could take place, so local trustees started to think outside the box for fundraising opportunities – eventually bringing to life a project idea they had previously considered, a children’s book starring Harold.

Life Education trustee Kay Moir says the Waipā–King Country trust came up with the idea for a picture book as a way of extending the trust’s messages even further.

She and fellow trustee Donna Davies worked on the project on behalf of the trust.
The book also received the full backing of the Life Education Trust national office, and many other districts have ordered advanced copies to use in their programmes and for fundraising.

“We wanted to spread the word about Harold, and promote his messages that we are all unique and important in our special way,” says Kay.

“Harold has been sharing these messages with students in New Zealand schools since 1988.

“The book is a way to take those messages beyond the classroom, for families and whānau to share together, and for younger children to be exposed to earlier.

“They are such important messages; especially at the moment.

“We also wanted to help spread the joy and love of reading.

“Children adore Harold, and the book means they can take him home to share with the important people in their lives.”

Illustrator Deborah Hinde of Wharepapa South. Photo / Supplied
Illustrator Deborah Hinde of Wharepapa South. Photo / Supplied

The pair contacted award-winning local illustrator Deborah Hinde to be involved with the project. She recommended award-winning Raglan author Sarah Johnson.

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, and writes books and stories for children and young adults.

She has won several awards, including the 2011 Joy Cowley Award and 2016 and 2017 Storylines Notable Book Awards.

Harold’s Spots is the seventh book she has worked on with Deborah, and the fourth about giraffes.

Raglan author Sarah Johnson. Photo / Meli Berends Photography
Raglan author Sarah Johnson. Photo / Meli Berends Photography

Deborah is based at Wharepapa South and has illustrated over 80 books, 40 of them picture books.

She works both with established publishing houses and independent publishers, assisting with illustration, book design and publication management.

“The book wouldn’t have come to fruition without Deb and Sarah sharing their expertise,” says Donna.

“Thanks to them we have a beautiful book, with a fun uplifting story, that children and families can enjoy again and again.”

The trust is also deeply grateful to their “fabulous educators”, Nicky Wise and Sarah Bolton, who work tirelessly to bring Harold’s messages to as many local children as possible.

They also acknowledge the generous support for the project from Creative New Zealand and Te Awamutu, Cambridge and Te Kuiti Rotarians.

So, who has heard of a stripey giraffe?

After all, Harold has always had spots, that is until Oxpecker decides to do something about them.

Will Harold still be Harold without his spots?

The only way to find out is to read his story.

Harold’s Spots is being officially launched at an event at Te Awamutu Library on Wednesday, June 22 from 4.30 to 6pm. Copies of Harold’s Spots will be on sale with a small Harold for $24.

The launch is also a chance to find out more about the work of Life Education Trust, meet the educators and the author and illustrator, who will be reading and giving a short talk on creating story books.

Te Awamutu and Cambridge Libraries will be featuring Harold’s Spots in the forthcoming school holiday programme. Participants will receive a free book bag when the purchase a book. Watch for forthcoming details of how to register.

Copies of Harold’s Spots ($19.99) can be purchased from the Te Awamutu i-Site Centre or by contacting Kay or Donna at [email protected]

To attend the launch please register with Kay, 0274 531 093 or Donna, 0273 005 651 or email [email protected]

Waipā–King Country Life Education Trust is a volunteer organisation, with all money raised returned to the trust.

No government funding is received because Life Education founder Trevor Grice did not want the service to be affected by different governments.

The other reason to not receive government funding is to keep our service with a community/family feel whereby the community and their families are involved in fundraising and contributing to the wonderful service we provide.

Waipā–King Country needs to raise $200,000 every year.

The aim of the programme is to encourage children aged 5-13 years to contribute in a positive way to the community they live in.

Resilience is at the heart of wellbeing. Resilient kids can bounce back from challenges and are more curious, brave and adaptable. People can grow their resilience.

Following Covid-19 there has been an increase in anxiety and unknown feelings as children try to adapt to a new situation.

Life Education Trust and Anxiety NZ have come together to help young people’s mental health and wellbeing to thrive by launching a new initiative – Healthy Minds.

The aim is to empower young people to grow their hauora and meet challenges with resistance.

The teaching covers content across five major strands: food and nutrition, human biology, relationships and communities, identity and resilience, and substances.

Through education students are helped to understand how decisions they make today can affect their future health and wellbeing.

The classroom presents a safe and fun way to learn about problems and to deal with them in a constructive manner.

Specially trained educators show children how brilliant and unique their body is and how to keep healthy and safe.

Topics covered are how their body works, what we need to do to keep ourselves healthy, social relationships, resilience in this changing world and also drugs and alcohol for intermediate aged children.

The classrooms are equipped with fabulous technology to engage children, plus the beloved mascot Harold helps children relate.

Children are encouraged to talk to their families about what they have learned; therefore the message is passed on to the community.

The charity acknowledges the need to focus on communities, helping grow strength from within, whereby they have the skills to be future leaders and resilient members of the community they live in.

A priority is reducing isolation in our communities by visiting schools in a mobile classroom so no child has to rely on a family member or extra financial costs to reach the service.

With a second classroom operating remote schools are now visited annually rather than every second year.

Children are taught they are all unique and special and need to both be respected and to respect others.

Educators collaborate with schools before and after our visits to ensure the programme is meeting the needs each individual school has identified for their students.

All communities face different issues and problems, therefore by offering each school the chance to tailor lessons to their own set of needs the trust is acknowledging the uniqueness of each community and their different needs.

Many of our schools in isolated areas have the community and iwi fully supporting the opportunity for their tamariki and students to have this time in this digitally equipped classroom to see ways to achieve their potential and enable choices around their further education, encouraging them to reach for their dreams whatever they may be.

The trust has identified that today children and young people face a lot of challenges, including obesity, substance use, mental health and wellbeing and bullying.

The decisions made as young people can dramatically affect how they live their lives in the future – and this is why Life Education exists.

Through education they help students to understand how decisions they make today can affect their future health, allowing them to be confident in their decision making.