It took just three days for the Tihei Mauri Ora Emergency Response Centre to go from concept to reality.
The centre, which was kick-started to provide a welfare response to whānau pounamu (the most vulnerable) when New Zealand went into the COVID-19 lockdown, has since connected with around 11,000 people and delivered close to 3500 food and care parcels to families from Wairoa to the Wairarapa.
Centre coordinators Henry Heke and Tofilau Talalelei Taufale said they had to gear up quickly as they knew people would struggle during the lockdown.
“When we found out on 23 March that New Zealand would move to an Alert Level 4 lockdown that week, we had a karakia that day with nothing in the room but people,” Mr Heke said.
“We had a planning day that Monday. On Tuesday, police moved furniture in and EIT computers. On Wednesday, we had people and plans in place, and on Thursday the centre was operational. We had 24 tonnes of fruit and vegetables delivered to our Taiwhenua within the first few days, ready to be distributed to whānau.”
The Tihei Mauri Ora Emergency Response Centre is a Ngāti Kahungunu and Hawke’s Bay District Health Board collaboration in partnership with central and local government.
It is made up of six satellite hubs to provide local welfare support, based in Ahuriri, Wairoa, Heretaunga, Central Hawke’s Bay, Dannevirke and Wairarapa.
Mr Heke said the purpose of the centre is to coordinate delivering food, firewood and blankets to whānau pounamu – and the group decided right from the beginning they would look after anybody who needed help.
“This centre spans an area covered by eight district councils and three district health boards, and we’ve been providing manakitanga to all within those boundaries: Māori, Pasifika, muliticultural communities and Pakeha.
“We just opened the doors and walked in. We had motivated people. We just charged ahead and said this is what we’re going to do.”
“When you have people joined at the hip, who have knowledge of each other, the right kaupapa, speak Te Reo and Pacific languages and deliver a culturally responsive service, you can hit the ground running,” Mr Taufale added.
Mr Taufale acknowledged that marae and the traditional churches Pacific people would usually link through were unavailable. In response, the churches set up online platforms to stay connected virtually. Tihei Mauri Ora then slotted in to provide the platform to physically reach out to Pacific whānau pounamu.
Mr Heke and Mr Taufale both work at Hawke’s Bay District Health Board as Head of Intersector and Special Projects and Pacific Health Manager respectively.
Mr Heke said the Tihei Mauri Ora Emergency Response Centre takes a different approach to helping those most in need. Once they establish relationships with people who reach out for help, they ask key questions to gain insights into the issues they are facing.
“Our philosophy is ngakau aotea – open heart, open mind, open arms – and that’s the approach people needed to take when they walked into this space. We ask: who are you? Where are you? How do we get hold of you? And tell us your situation – and that last question is where the gems are, and how we could do some forward thinking about what whānau were going to need.”
Mr Taufale added: “Our whānau ora [family health] approach underpins the four conversation starters. It’s a holistic approach that wraps around mental and physical wellbeing: food on the table, clothes for the kids, and warmth.
“We’re working with whānau who were struggling before COVID-19, so the impact was magnified. When people were panic buying, Pacific people surviving from week to week didn’t have flexibility to buy more than they needed, and a number struggled to get the basics. By the time they could shop, many of the shelves with the popular items would be empty.”
Within a few weeks, staff at the centre had invited the Migrant Welfare Group, which is supporting Hawke’s Bay’s multicultural communities through the pandemic, to join its fold.
The Migrant Welfare Group community hub is now based at the Tihei Mauri Ora Tomoana Logistics Hub in Hastings where they have a direct line into the call centre and shared food storage facilities.
Ngāti Kahangunu Iwi Inc. Chair Ngahiwi Tomoana said the Tihei Mauri Ora Emergency Response Centre would continue to support vulnerable whānau after the initial COVID-19 response is over.
“It needs to keep going and keep morphing to take care of the needs: the bruises, socially and economically, won’t show for another 18 months. We need to be ready to adapt – we don’t know what’s coming.
“You get people in need and they spiral – they’ll stay there and they think it’s their fault. But everyone’s equal, everyone’s hurting, they’re all reaching out. It gives them a bit of relief that we care.”
Tihei Mauri Ora is one of a number of groups the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group has partnered with to deliver welfare services during the COVID-19 response.
As well as iwi, the organisations involved include those working with migrant communities, children, older persons, visitors, rural communities, disability networks, the homeless, and others.
9 June 2020
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