Te Ika Whenua Hauora is used to helping people overcome the impact of isolation.
For almost 40 years they’ve helped remote communities such as Minginui, Ruatahuna, Waiohau and Kaiangaroa from their base in Murupara to combat everything from mental health to rheumatic fever – and now they’re helping the region’s young rangatahi tackle education obstacles that COVID has created.
“We have a passion for our people just to make sure their needs are met,” says Robert Jenner, the Operations Manager for Te Ika Whenua Hauora Inc Society.
“We go out into people’s homes and into schools. We take them to appointments at the hospital or to WINZ to access the support they need… we help our community organisations like sports clubs to put appropriate drug and alcohol policies in place, and we also try to help people with their own independence.”
Robert says living in a remote location adds an extra layer of challenge to health, education and social problems. “If you live in an isolated place and you’ve been there for such a long time…you’re not familiar with all the changes in the system, and it makes it really difficult to know what services are on offer and what help you can access.”
The Hauora now employs 13 people but more staff are needed thanks to the success of their latest initiative called Te Ara Tika. It comprises three different youth programmes to help local teenagers stay in school – a problem that Project Manager Leila Rewa says became apparent after last year’s initial COVID-19 lockdown.
“Many students and their whanau began to question why school was necessary. Why go to class each day when they could learn from home instead? We were just starting to get them back on track when this year’s lockdown hit and made the problem worse.”
Leila says in many cases, students have simply had too long of a holiday. “After the second lockdown I was getting reports from principals saying that many 16 to 18 year-olds weren’t even engaging in the online mahi that they had been given. Some of that is being fed from their whanau as well – adults are going out to work so want older students to stay home and look after the little kids. Or they can’t afford to buy kai or rent so they’re forcing these kids to go find some fulltime mahi.”
Faced with adult pressures, Leila says many students grow up too fast and then feel too mature to sit comfortably alongside their peers in a classroom, prompting them to stay away.
To combat the problem, the charitable trust now offers three different youth programmes. Their ‘Transition To School’ physically collects students from home each day to ensure they attend English and maths at their local school, and a facilitator sits with them in class to offer extra support.
“They do those two periods because those are the main subjects to get your NZCA credits. Then we take them back to our whare and we do Te Kura (distance learning) with them. It works because it keeps them engaged. They can’t do a whole day at school – they mentally can’t focus. So we take them away from that environment and slowly transition them back in.”
The second initiative is called ‘Programmes In School.’ It sees a facilitator run a hands-on class once a week on either sporting/fitness, culture, outdoor recreation or environment to help hold students’ attention and encourage them to stay in school. “They’ll go in once a week into school and do a programme with maybe 12 to 15 kids that are on the verge of disengaging from school. So it's not all about schoolwork like maths, English, science. It’s more of a hands-on programme just to keep them there and hold their attention.”
Finally, their ‘Youth Disengaged Programme’ is for those who refuse to attend school. Distance learning is provided instead through Te Kura or Northern Health School to help them earn NZQA credits or prepare them for employment or tertiary study.
“We’ve found that it's a big need here in Murupara and our surroundings. Nobody knows what this Delta variant and COVID will do, so we’re anticipating we’ll get more kids who will disengage from school as a result.”
BayTrust has granted $30,000 to Te Ika Whenua Hauora to buy a new 12-seater van so they can transport students to and from school and their distance learning base in Murupara. Further funding is being sought to help employ additional facilitators to meet demand.
Leila is most grateful for BayTrust’s support. “In terms of our outcomes, we’ve had 12 fully re-engage back to school, two go into fulltime employment, two into part-time employment. And we’ve identified two rangatahi as champion leaders meaning they could maybe one day help facilitate our programmes. It’s been a big success and there’s a big need in our area.”