ONE of my all- time favorite Maori words is awhi. It means to embrace and support with unconditional love and, now more than ever, there is a need for a lot more awhi in our community.
I have long held the opinion that there is a band of angels who work their wings off around Tauranga, offering their unconditional support, so I have tracked them down, patched them up and taken the liberty to call this gang Awhi Angels.
I am sure many of you know members of this Awhi Angel gang and recently I discovered a pad where they hang out.
It's called Te Tuinga (to stitch together). It's a cute little white stucco cottage on Chadwick Rd in Greerton and I took up residence there to see if I could qualify as one of them by seeing first-hand the world they deal with.
My first few weeks were all about finding my feet and coming to grips with the reality of life for those people who don't enjoy the luxuries many of us take for granted. Luxuries such as a vehicle (with a warrant) to drive the kids to school and soccer practice afterwards, a whare (with a heater) and a fridge that still has something in it a day out from the next pay or benefit day.
When you see on almost a daily basis grown men crying because they cannot feed their kids and mothers who show signs of last night's bashing you begin to understand how wide the gap is in Tauranga between those who have more than they need and those who don't have nearly enough.
What was less obvious to me before my angel apprenticeship started was that the gap is growing wider by the day, and unless there are more Awhi Angels prepared to wing up and stand in the middle, there are going to be some very sad sights living on our streets.
Many who walk in just want to know someone cares and too often they have been told what they know already. Get a job, eat healthier, stop smoking, get your kids back to school, are givens for many, if not most, I meet here. So why not give them hope by telling them something they can realistically do day by day and week by week to improve their well-being?
So how can you help, you may well ask? There are many whanau support services and community groups all over Tauranga that are breeding grounds for Awhi Angels. The one I am working with is called Te Tuinga Whanau Support Centre and just around the corner is the HQ of Awhi Angels, known as the Merivale Community Centre.
Sometimes we seem to focus on the needy and not those who work tirelessly to meet those needs by standing in the poverty gap, and for these tangata aroha any act of kindness goes a long way to keeping them keeping on giving.
Pick a flower, bake a cake or drop in and sing them a song - it all helps oil their angelic wings. Last week, my Mum dropped in a beautiful bunch of woven putiputi. How appropriate for a whare called Te Tuinga.
For others, there is nothing better to give than your time. Here, at Te Tuinga, we offer alternative education at two of our schools as well as social work advocacy, information and support services, and it's free to everyone regardless of ethnicity.
For our Alternative Education programmes, we could do with a couple of retired blokes to teach the kids how to grow a garden, bait a hook to catch a feed, or change a car tyre and change their outlook on life at the same time. While inside, their wives could teach the students how to cook a kai and crochet a cushion.
These are all vital skills that will help them on to the highway of life.
They call Tauranga God's waiting room but why wait for God when there are Awhi Angels all over Tauranga, who could do with a hand?
If you have some time to lend a helping hand call me at Te Tuinga and become an Awhi Angel. No experience required. Wings supplied.
firstname.lastname@example.org; ph 07 571 0875
Garth George will be back next week.