AN “incredible” social media campaign has helped save beloved character Healthy Harold’s long neck from the chopping block, allowing him to educate another generation of Hunter children.
Life Education said on Tuesday the federal government had slashed its funding from $500,000 this year to zero next financial year and expressed concern the future of its organisation and giraffe mascot was in doubt.
Minister for Education Simon Birmingham tweeted late Tuesday the government supported Healthy Harold and would “work with Life Education Australia to ensure the funding and the program continues”.
Hunter Life Education executive officer Sarah Gray said the independent health and drug education provider was “overwhelmed” by the “incredible outpouring” of support online and from the media.
“Harold is such an icon in Australian life and when you have something so iconic people really do reminisce and they don’t want to see something like that disappear,” Ms Gray said. “He’s part of our popular culture.
“We saw people saying ‘My daughter came home and badgered me so much about smoking I quit’.
“Others said ‘You definitely did not skip school on Healthy Harold day’.
“We do know now that this really works and people do remember what they learned at Life Education – if something was not important to a small mind, they would not remember.
“This [support] really does bring home the fact that everyone is familiar with Harold and he’s really had an impact on the Hunter and Australia at large.
“Everyone really supports what Life Education stands for and the health prevention education we provide.”
Ms Gray said Life Education was born in Sydney 35 years ago and opened a Hunter branch 32 years ago.
An NBN Telethon was held to raise more than $1 million to build a Life Education centre – one of only two in the country – in Edgeworth, purchase vans to take the program to schools and buy TAMs, or transparent anatomical mannequins.
Ms Gray said more than 800,000 Hunter students had participated in programs and met Harold since then.
Each year, she said, about 28,000 students – about half of the region’s primary schoolers – either attended the centre or had one of the organisation’s three vans visit their school.
She said the organisation started with drug and alcohol prevention but has since branched out to include healthy eating, safe use of medicines, cyber safety and peer pressure refusal skills.
It introduced an anti illicit drug program for years five and six earlier this year and will launch a new high school program later this year. It has also developed online resources for parents, which complement what children learn in class.
“We continue to grow – by the end of this year we will have seen 10 per cent more children than we did last year,” Ms Gray said.
“We are not dying.”