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Forget the great body, get a great life

When Annah Stretton first met the CEO of Waikato Women's Refuge back in 2013, they could never have predicted the life-changing impact this connection would have.

The Refuge exposed Annah to a version of New Zealand that was very different to her own and immediately inspired her to start working on ways to eliminate the disadvantage that she had unearthed.

Her first social venture - RAW (Reclaim Another Women) - grew out of that initial visit and two years down the track, Refuge inspired her second.

Kia Puāwai, was launched in response to the amplifying rates of lifestyle diseases now deeply entrenched in vulnerable sectors of the community and thus proving unresponsive to traditional health messages or ‘green prescriptions’.

“Traditional health messages have simply not reached and/or gained traction with those who need to prioritise their health the most. All they’ve done is perpetuate boom to bust dieting and exercise fads while failing to acknowledge the mental health issues that often sit alongside weight gain, the harmful processed food and beverage environment that we are now surrounded by, or embracing any form of cultural diversity.”

So, what’s the answer?

Kia Puāwai advocates a holistic approach to wellbeing that places significant emphasis on mental wellbeing, alongside commonsense nutrition and movement ‘edits’ to existing lifestyle behaviours.

“In a nutshell, Kia Puāwai is helping people to make small changes in their lifestyle to achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes rather than giant leaps into the unknown and uncomfortable. We don’t push diets, exercise plans or supplements, we measure wellness rather than weight and we take care to acknowledge and respect cultural diversity” says Annah.

Once again Kia Puāwai’s initial work with Waikato Women’s Refuge proved pivotal to the evolution of their wellbeing programme.

“Our initial pilot with the Refuge was a vital proof of concept for both our content and our group-based learning approach. It proved to us that sustainable results are achievable for vulnerable groups when they are anchored around insight and behavioural change.

In other words, when individuals understand the triggers to their lifestyle behaviours and zero in on the underlying causes, a breakthrough is finally able to be achieved.”

Their work with the Refuge also uncovered the huge need that exists amongst charities and community organisations.

These groups are infamous for going above and beyond on shoestring budgets and overlooking their own health and wellbeing in favour of others.

Three years down the track and Kia Puāwai are on a roll with charities, community groups and private enterprises alike. To date, they've positively impacted the wellbeing of almost 500 New Zealanders, with the aid of some operational funding from the Health Promotion Agency, and plans to double their impact in the year ahead.

Here's a taste of what their clients are saying:

“Previous wellbeing programmes have all been diet focused with measuring, weigh-ins, and exercise. Although they can start off really well, usually they don’t last. People drop off around the week 4 – 6 mark, and the fatty foods come back in full force. Kia Puāwai’s focus is much more holistic with wellbeing at the core as well as the consistency of weekly visits, evaluations, and continuous motivation.” Roni Albert (CEO Waikato Women’s Refuge)

“Kia Puāwai has had a huge impact on my life. Before I cared only for others and didn't have time to think of my career or wellbeing. Now I allocate time to rest, think, plan and eat (meaningfully). My self-esteem has risen, and I have learned not to say yes to everything. I am now being assertive in a positive way. The facilitator was so encouraging friendly and professional respecting opinions and giving the opportunity to speak and accommodate others’ views.” Shama Charity To find out more about Kia Puāwai visit

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