Saint Lucian born Petra Auguste of the Kids’ Care Kindergarten Centre in Gros Islet brings to the fore a project she has conceptualized, which comes to the rescue of children island-wide. Auguste says her brainchild, ‘The Chief Tree Initiative’, evolved as a result of children becoming fatter. “I needed to find a way to change the attitudes and the thinking of the children, because for a long time parents have been trying to get their children to eat healthily. So far it has been more parent-focused than child-focused,” she recently told The STAR.
Auguste went on to explain that she thought of creating a unique character, having realized the impact the likes of Dora and Barney had upon children. “I thought if I used a character to teach the children how to eat healthily, we would have better results. This is how the entire ‘Chief Tree’ initiative was created. We used a tree as the mascot, with lots of fruits and vegetables which were locally available. We also wanted the children to acquire a taste for all our locally grown foods, as opposed to imported items.”
According to Auguste, the initiative was conceptualized back in 2012. “When I began speaking about it, I realized the potential not just for pre-schoolers eating healthily, but also for developing markets for entrepreneurs. What I anticipated was for people to become creative and begin to experiment with tasty foods which appeal to children.”
She continued, “As we began speaking about it, the concept began to ‘spread its branches and take roots’ and now we have initiatives which involve us going into the schools and implementing things like ‘eat a banana day’.”
Auguste told the STAR that upon realizing the impact it could have on several government ministries such as Health, Agriculture, Education, Social Transformation & Youth and Sports, she approached those departments. “Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea”, she stated. However, it turned out to be just lip service.
“Eventually we began to work with non-governmental organizations such as I.I.C.A. (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture) and RISE St. Lucia, and through them we were able to establish alliances with the Global Environmental Fund and the St. Lucia Network of Rural Women Producers (SLNRWP).”
Auguste decided to work with people who were already developed within organic markets, producing healthier snacks than those which currently laden our local supermarkets shelves.
“Through G.E.F. (SGP) Global Environment Small Grants Programme, we are now able to initiate a programme via which we are actually going to test the impact of ‘The Chief Tree’ initiative on the behavioural changes in children, using a story book which I have written, the snacks and so on. We are also utilizing the services of our rural women and bringing them on board, offering them an additional market by packaging their produce with ‘Chief Tree’ packaging,” Auguste disclosed.
The concept seeks to make the ‘Chief Tree’ brand a household name, while simultaneously creating an association in the minds of children, so that ‘Chief Tree’ branded items will become synonymous with healthy foods. Both farmers and rural producers of healthy snacks such as breadfruit, dasheen and plantain chips, as well as parents, have now been offered a solution to a healthier lifestyle for their offspring.
In the pipeline are ideas like a branded, attractive lunch-bag line, colouful pasta utilizing beet and spinach extracts, natural fruit juices – intended to be introduced in schools, with the aim of creating a taste for ‘good food’ at an early age. The ‘Chief Tree’ initiative was launched back in January in conjunction with the RISE St. Lucia’s ‘Good Food Revolution’ spearheaded by Dr. Steven King and Dr. Jacqueline Bird. The aim of the project is to introduce an organic food revolution and more holistic and healthier overall lifestyles to Saint Lucians, with the main target being to significantly reduce the island’s expenditure on overall health care services.