Being a Māori health promoter, more than just a job
Now more than ever we are able to put a spotlight on tough topics and hold people accountable so we can create a fairer society for everyone, writes HPF’s new Māori Health Promotion Strategist Mereana Te Pere
When I drive through the streets of Manurewa on the way home, I often hear the helicopter hovering above, usually as I am nodding my head to music. When I drive along Great South Road I see the effects of what happens when someone (or in this case a whole community) does not have adequate access to the right health avenues they need or are entitled to. In Manurewa it is not unusual to see queues of people a the local Work and Income office. There are three (soon to be four) prisons all within a 4km radius, homeless families sleeping rough outside the church and takeaway shops, and Pātaka Kai emptied out. On a positive note, the window-washers are always polite, even if I don’t have any spare change. Despite these things, Manurewa is my home away from home, and a place that has also given me wonderful memories and caring friendships. Times seem to be always be tough in ‘Rewa’, but make no mistake, some of the most talented and generous people I have had the privilege to know and work with, have been born in ‘the south side’.
I love my place here in Tamaki with the wonderful people I consider my city whānau. But sadly the situation here reflects my hometowns of Te Puke and Tauranga. There I see awa that are becoming too polluted from local orchards and factories for our kids to swim in. But we need jobs right? I see too many tangi as a result of suicide. I see whānau being sent home from the GP or hospital with a bill of health, only to end up in the urupā. And I see people resort to drug dealing because its the only realistic option for generating a steady income. In this profession there are no conviction or reference checks, no experience necessary and there is always high demand. This way of life can make perfect sense for the generations of families forced beneath the poverty line.
But surely it’s not all doom and gloom? I reiterate that I love my home. I miss my whenua all the time, and when I am able to return I feel re-nourished. My happiest memories come from a upbringing full of tree-hut building, endless days swimming at the river, adventures through the bush, and playing with all the cousins at the pā, because that was our safe place and the centre of the universe. Twenty years ago this was the norm, but times have definitely changed, and now so must we.
Thirty years ago it was normal to tease someone for being gay, obey your elders with blind loyalty and see parents smoking around the tamariki inside the family home. Fortunately in today’s world, people are more connected, more socially aware and more liberal than ever. Social justice movements like Mauna Kea, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo means we no longer have to ask for permission to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, because it is our right. Now more than ever we are able to put a spotlight on tough topics and hold people accountable so we can create a fairer society for everyone.
And this is why I put my hat in to the ‘health promotion’ ring. I have always pursued avenues for the most vulnerable members of my whānau, and all Māori, to thrive and have the best opportunities for quality and fulfilling lives. But as simple as that might sound, history shows that progress is slow and arduous. So when I think of the challenges ahead, it is the love for my whānau back home and here in Tāmakimakaurau who have been short-changed, that pushes me to give 100% for everyone and never quit. I feel very fortunate to be in a role where I can tackle those tough issues and serve these communities. Being a Māori Health Promotion Strategist is more than a job and pay packet (although in these uncertain times I am extremely grateful for my job), but it’s also part of a life mission to contribute meaningfully alongside the many other champions around the motu, to the health and wellbeing of all Māori whānau.
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini (My success is not my own, but from that of many)