When we look at the efforts of Māori health providers over the course of this year, Te Kōtuku ki te Rangi in West Auckland are difficult to miss. As a Kaupapa Māori service, Te Kōtuku strive to achieve successful healing and recovery of tāngata whaiora, while helping them realise their own dreams and aspirations.
Led by service manager Natalia Kaihau, ‘proud’ was an understatement when reflecting on the resilience of her kaimahi and tāngata whaiora during both COVID-19 lockdowns, “It’s difficult to truly articulate, I was beyond proud of everyone and everything”. “Our tāngata whaiora trusted us. They trusted that we would always do right by them”. Many staff in fact, including Natalia, moved to live in the organisation during this time, leaving loved ones and putting tāngata whaiora first, “We were supporting whaiora that weren’t even registered with us. We just stood up and did it and that was a really proud moment”.
Among the many group zooms and online games held, Te Kōtuku’s creation of two virtual plays succeeded them all. Characters were played and performed by tāngata whaiora, touching on key themes including Te Whare Tapa Whā, Whanaungatanga, and Smoking Cessation in the ‘Case of the Missing Jandal’ on the marae. “We’ve had some great fun. There was huge involvement from whaiora, and from those who were watching”, explained Natalia. Enjoyment and engagement is no doubt a given at Te Kōtuku, and with whaiora always at the centre, it’s difficult to consider them anything but whānau.
Also advocating on behalf of kaimahi, Natalia credits her colleague Carla Klink for fighting for the inclusion of the Level 4 Mental Health Certificate in the Apprenticeship Boost Scheme from MSD. Highlighting its importance, Natalia explained that, “As an organisation, I can be more confident in bringing kaimahi on that are unskilled and then developing them. It’s also another great opportunity to build up our Māori health workforce”. Natalia later added, “The best industry to be in right now is health, and more money needs to be put into it”.
As our new government begins their term, Natalia emphasises the need for more intervention therapies, “There’s just not enough. We’re still waiting for queues to get into counselling let alone into deep therapeutic interventional type counselling”. Additionally, developing our Māori health workforce should remain high on everyone’s priorities Natalia explained, “We are not breeding our people into this mahi. Where are our iwi workforce development plans? Where are our hapu development plans that we’re doing for our people?”
Within their own right and with a presence of more than 30 years, Te Kōtuku are strong Māori health leaders both in Auckland and across the sector. Speaking solely with passion and aroha, tāngata whaiora will always be Natalia and her kaimahi’s top priority – no matter what.
“When you’re working with people, it’s always got to be about them – regardless of where you sit. They are first and foremost our tāngata whaiora. They really are whānau.”