Motu Ta’e’iloa (Our Special Island)

Millipede / Second Muse / Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Encouraging healthy eating in the South Pacific

The incidence of non-communicable diseases linked with poor diet in the Pacific islands has reached crisis level. Our challenge was to explore innovative ways to leverage technology to promote positive attitudes to healthy foods, and inspire nutritious eating habits in young Tongan children.

Gaining and earning insight

Initially, we reviewed numerous reports to inform our work. However, nothing proved as beneficial as spending time in-country, observing the issues first-hand and co-designing a solution with those we aimed to help. Our team spent time learning about local culture and traditions from government officials, health experts, teachers and children. We also presented our proven capabilities in game- and play-based learning, working to dispel the idea that games are time-wasters in learning contexts. After investing effort in many meetings and school visits, we gained the support of all stakeholders to commence design.

The Our Special Island program (Motu Ta’e’iloa in Tongan) is our output.

The idea

The Our Special Island program harnesses the affordances of play and game design elements in a set of digital and print resources. Specifically aimed at 6–7 year olds, the program explicitly acknowledges the importance of play for learning, the power of popular culture in children’s lives and the ubiquitous appeal of touch-screen devices to young children. We believed that by leveraging these elements, we could help influence attitudinal change in young children towards healthy food choices.

Set on an island, the Our Special Island app promotes traditional foods and food preparation to children through digital play, while the print material engages broader messages related to healthy and unhealthy foods. The resources feature culturally appropriate characters, including two children called Kelela and Pulotu, with some cooking help from Maui-Kisikisi, the youngest son of the great Polynesian cultural hero Maui.

The program resources include:

  • Our Special Island app
  • print items, including a board game, flashcards and worksheets
  • teacher material.

Our ambition

The overarching program aim is to use the affordances of touch-screen devices and play-based pedagogy to involve children in fun activities to influence attitudinal change. We recognised that the first step in change is shifting attitudes through better understandings.

Four key learning outcomes were identified for children:

  • identify healthy food and unhealthy food
  • develop an understanding of the relationship between healthy choices, and wellbeing
  • develop an awareness of the availability of sources of healthy food in the local environment to develop an interest in, and enthusiasm for, growing, gathering and preparing healthy foods.

Demonstration, engagement and follow through

Following the initial in-country visit, we returned to Tonga to host a design workshop with representatives from DFAT, Tonga Health, various government ministries and agricultural business people. We continued to learn how best to include cultural aspects of Tongan life in the program, to ensure the concept we presented resonated appropriately with Tongan children, parents and officials, while remaining curriculum-aligned and hitting key learning outcomes.

We then developed a plan to socialise the resources with educators and parents to ensure schools and communities supported the program. Our subsequent trips to Tonga focused solely on community and stakeholder engagement, including visits to the 11 pilot schools, to continually reaffirm commitment to the program.


In order to evaluate against our key learning outcomes, we developed a robust data-capture strategy that included in-app and external activities.

Being able to track meaningful data from the app usage was built into the solution design from the beginning. Millipede has previous experience in developing apps for use in remote areas and has developed systems and policies for tracking and storing anonymised usage data, for later synchronisation.

We conducted baseline and end-of-pilot surveys with children and teachers in pilot schools, so we could compare pre- and post-trial understandings. Qualitative interviews were conducted with teachers and parents, while informal workshops were conducted with small groups of children to further observe interactions.


The evaluation has identified six notable outcomes of the pilot:

There was a measurable improvement in students’ knowledge about healthy and unhealthy foods after engaging with the Our Special Island materials

Before using the app, only 3% of children in the trial population correctly identified the healthy foods in a set of healthy and unhealthy options; whereas post-trial, 81% correctly identified the healthy foods. Furthermore, post-trial 94% listed a healthy food as a favourite, compared to 60% pre-trial.

Students had begun to connect their digital play interactions with their off-screen world

Students in the majority of pilot schools had begun to demonstrate an increased interest in healthy food and healthy eating at school and in their homes.

Students remained engaged with the app throughout the pilot

Students across all pilot schools were as excited to use the app at the end of the pilot as they were at the beginning. In some cases, the app usage data indicated that levels of engagement appeared higher at the end of the pilot.

Teachers welcomed the iPads in their classroom and enjoyed using them

Teachers across the majority of pilot schools embraced the iPad and the Our Special Island app to the point that all but one teacher requested more iPads in the classroom at the end of the pilot.

Use of the Our Special Island materials varied significantly across schools

The usage rates of the Our Special Island play-based app across schools ranged from 184 sessions to just two sessions over the six-week period.

The pilot and suite of resources were, on the whole, culturally appropriate, engaging, and accessible

Feedback received on the Our Special Island pilot from participating teachers, parents of participating students and key pilot stakeholders indicate that the pilot resources were well received.

The full Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Report for the Our Special Island pilot is available for download.

Moving forward

The results show a significant positive shift in most children’s attitudes towards healthy food. The observations and feedback from teachers and parents has been both encouraging and inspiring. We are currently focusing on a Tonga-wide rollout, a strategy for sustaining the program long-term. We’ll be repurposing some material for additional use-cases and developing a model that will ensure sustainability into the future.

We are actively seeking funding partners to help us realise our five-year plan for Our Special Island across the Pacific—we aim to achieve:

  • Our Special Island being used in more than 80% of GPS schools in Tonga and Samoa
  • ambassador programs employing local representatives in Tonga and Samoa
  • reaching thousands of students across hundreds of classrooms
  • supporting teachers across Tonga and Samoa to embrace play-based learning
  • Our Special Island having an international presence outside of the Pacific region
  • a measurable impact and contribution in the fight against NCDs.

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