Opening curtains in Kaitaia

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NEW START: Opening the Curtains was launched at the Te Ahu Centre in Kaitaia on Tuesday. PICTURE/MIKE BARRINGTON
NEW START: Opening the Curtains was launched at the Te Ahu Centre in Kaitaia on Tuesday. PICTURE/MIKE BARRINGTON

Whanau offered help to get off the couch to better life

Poor Maori people and their children enduring hard lives in Kaitaia will soon be offered help by a new ANT Trust programme called Open the Curtains.

Launching the programme at the Te Ahu Centre in Kaitaia on Tuesday, former MP Hone Harawira told about 35 people how trust staff would visit every Maori home in the area, taking kai for an initial talk and following that up by helping whanau get food for the cupboards, furniture and clothes for children.

The trust team would help mothers pay the bills and do their best to "get the brothers off the couch and out helping gather kai, tidy each other's sections, doing lawns, painting houses and taking pride in their communities".

Mr Harawira said the trust also wanted to get unemployed Maori men into work schemes so they were working every day to improve their skills.

He explained the Open the Curtains name for the programme came from a visit he made to the home of a youngster who hadn't turned up for classes at Te Rangi Aniwanawa kura.

Inside the close-curtained house he had found a man aged about 30 lying on a couch watching television while the child he was looking for was minding a baby.

The children's mother arrived home from a doctor's visit and was embarrassed that he had opened the curtains.

"Poor people's homes look the same all over the country," Mr Harawira said.

"Rents have increased, so families are doubling up. Intergenerational unemployment will likely be a feature of the home. Some family members may have had run-ins with the law, doing drugs may be normal and kids may often be malnourished and unhealthy.

"Poor people don't trust government departments," he said.

"Social service agencies, for all their good intentions, are often seen as either spying or telling families how to live their lives.

"And many of these homes have their curtains closed during the day because families are either embarrassed at what their homes look like or because they don't want to know what's happening outside.

"We want to open the curtains and let the sun shine in."

The ANT Trust aimed to help communities reduce their benefit dependency. It planned to introduce whanau to one another so they would look out for and care for one another.

Land would be sought for a community park and gardens, work-related resources would be obtained from local businesses and the trust would get a van for daily shopping runs and doctors' visits.

"We will work with anyone to help improve people's self-reliance," Mr Harawira said.

"We want to work with government agencies and iwi and other social service providers, but we'd appreciate it if we weren't held back by departmental compliance, patch protection or people limited by their contacts."

ANT Trust officials with him at the launch were office administrator Adrianne Marsden, Manuera Riwai and Moana Erickson, who said she intended to have doorknocking up and running next week. The programme will focus on the western side of Kaitaia for six months, moving to the rest of the town in the following six months.

"Some really tough stuff has been happening in our town, but it's our town and regardless of how tough it is we have to fix it," Mr Harawira said. "Our job is to help every whanau improve their lives."

The new programme received wide approval at the launch. "Something does have to be done - we are filling jails far too fast," Te Hauora o Te Hiku o Te Ika health promotions manager and lawyer Cathy Cherrington said.

- Northland Age

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