Maori, News

Health promoter isolated in Matakohe

When HPF’s Executive Director, Trevor Simpson and his wife Vanessa decided to make a radical change to their career-based lifestyle, sell up and take to the road for a new adventure little did they realise they would soon find themselves in ‘lockdown’ up North. Stuck in a beautiful and relatively empty holiday park has given them plenty of time for reflection, writes Trevor. By Trevor Simpson

Trevor Simpson and his wife Vanessa in front of their caravan, Bess.

In the weeks preceding the Covid19 level 4 “lockdown” (I do loathe the use of this word) my wife Vanessa and I had made the decision to completely change the career-based lifestyles we were living. Our plan was to sell our small apartment in Auckland, buy a nice caravan and traverse this beautiful country unencumbered and free to delight in the natural environment. The first two parts to the plan went remarkably well – within three days of listing, our apartment had sold and a week later we had acquired the caravan. Vanessa had resigned from her role as a registered nurse and I was fortunate enough to negotiate a reduced role with HPF that would allow me to continue to contribute in a small way to the important work that HPF does, while roaming the countryside. Barely a week into our excursion, which comprised small stays in Orewa and then Kororareka, Russell, we found ourselves in Matakohe in the northern Kaipara. Here sits a beautiful holiday park set on a rise overlooking the harbor and the mangrove estuaries that spread out across the expansive water catchment that is the Kaipara. On the day we arrived the Covid19 alert level moved from 3 to 4, our travel plans came to an abrupt halt and here we were to be held for the duration of a 4-week lockdown. A strange but fortunate outcome was the relative emptiness of the park (left). The off-season had just begun and other than the owner and her family there were only three other groups in the park. We later found out that two of these groups were visitors from the United States and Rarotonga, Cook Islands waiting out the mandatory stand-down period and hoping to receive clearance to return home. Unlike ours, theirs is a tenuous and stressful situation. They remain, like us, in isolation in Matakohe, although with enviable social distancing (50 metres or so) and the comfort of  perfectly arranged bubbles. Amongst the groups, the general mood of conversation is one of hope, a sense of gratitude and good fortune, and I sense, a level of fortitude and belief that the crisis will soon end. In the days since arriving I have found an unexpected sense of calm and contemplation. The restrictions imposed by Covid-19 have provided an unanticipated opportunity to take in those things that I might ordinarily have overlooked on any busy working day. This is a quiet and peaceful place but when you sit and listen, it resonates with the sound of the wind, the rustling of leaves, of birdsong and the melodic trills of insects. We witness Papatuanuku clothed in vibrant autumn hues. Here you see the sun rise and set every day. You watch the tides come and go. There is a pulse and rhythm to nature that I had forgotten somehow. In April of 2019, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) together with HPF held the 23rd World Conference on Health Promotion in Rotorua. At this conference we saw the drafting and ratification of the Waiora – An Indigenous People’s Statement for Planetary Health and Sustainable Development.  For the first time we witnessed the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, world views and indigenous health promotion in a high-level legacy document. In doing so, the health promotion global community agrees that Indigenous knowledge should be part and parcel of the work we do in addressing the global challenges that confront humanity. The Waiora Statement explains: Core features of indigenous worldviews are the interactive relationship between spiritual and material realms, that our planet has its own life force, the special nature of our relationships with ancestral lands and the interconnectedness and interdependence between all that exists, which locates humanity as part of the planet’s ecosystems. In reflecting on the Waiora Statement, this Matakohe experience has reminded me of two important aspects in terms of my role as an indigenous health promoter. The first is that in expressing my indigeneity I am asserting my intimate connection to the natural world, to nature, to Papatuanuku. I am not separate from, I am not above, but part of nature. My role and responsibility then, is to protect and sustain her for future generations – an overriding obligation to be embraced. The second point and probably the most important, is that the glue holding all of this together is spiritual. It is Wairua. Matakohe has uplifted me in unexpected ways. It has helped to me to “re-see” and reconnect. It has helped me to understand again what is important and what I’m called to. Covid-19 in all its global devastation and frightening impact will soon end but my indigenous spirit and the way I see the world as a health promoter will remain for the rest of my life.