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Year 13 Student Honoured at NZ Youth Awards

Christina Min, a Year 13 student, recently joined 14 other young New Zealanders at Parliament Buildings in Wellington to receive a 2019 New Zealand Youth Award from MP and Minister for Youth, Hon. Peeni Henare.

Established in 2013, the New Zealand Youth Awards recognise the commitment and leadership of young people aged between 12 and 24 who are leading change and innovation in their communities. In the seven Awards categories, which include Te Raukura – Inclusion; Taio – Commitment to the Environment, and Tūao – Volunteer Award, Christina was a co-recipient of an Auha – Innovation Award. This award recognises excellence and original thought through social enterprise and the invention of creative solutions to real world issues.

Christina's initiative, called Touch to Read, provides tactile (textured) children's books for pre-school children with low vision. The project, she says, was inspired by a visit in 2018 to the Homai campus of BLENNZ, the national network of educational services for children and young people who are visually impaired.

"I saw how beneficial the existing tactile books were for children with low vision – and how many more were needed. Many people think that having low vision is like being blind, but that is not the case, and while there are plenty of resources in Braille for people who are blind, they are not what people with low vision need. I started thinking about how I might provide more enriched reading resources for pre-school low-vision children so that their reading experiences are more engaging and enjoyable.”

With the help of an $800 donation from the Royal Society of New Zealand, Christina set about writing “Who’s under the Sea?”, a tactile book featuring a range of sea creatures including jellyfish, dolphins, whales and crabs. Unlike most picture books, tactile books are created with very clear outlines around the illustrations and strong contrasts between foregrounds and backgrounds. A variety of tactile materials such as Velcro is used to enhance readers’ impressions of different types of sea creatures.

Christina enlisted a group of fellow students at Kristin to help outline the illustrations in the books and paste in pictures by hand. To date, Touch to Read has produced and published 80 tactile books which have been distributed to low-vision children throughout New Zealand.

The social impact of initiatives is a key factor in the granting of New Zealand Youth Awards, and recognition for Touch to Read came quickly: Christina was selected to present her initiative at the International Community Problem Solving Competition at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in the United States where it was awarded first place in her project division.

Christina’s next step with Touch to Read is to produce a sequel to “Who’s Under the Sea?”, and she is also following the work of a research team at Auckland University that is exploring the science behind low-vision disorders in children. Once she completes her studies at Kristin later this year, she hopes to embark on a career in medicine and to specialise in ophthalmology, the science of eye disorders.

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