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'They're there and we're here but we're all the same'

Otu Ahiao has lived in Cannons Creek since 1979. Photo / Hagen Hopkin
Otu Ahiao has lived in Cannons Creek since 1979. Photo / Hagen Hopkin

"Be content with what you have". That's just one of the slogans on a mural at the Cannons Creek Four Square.

That's easy to say but perhaps a little harder for the people of Porirua East when their impoverished suburb is overlooked by the mansions of the new suburb of Aotea.

Otu Ahiao is content. She just wouldn't mind a bit more-like a job. "Even if it's cleaning, there's nothing wrong with cleaning. I've done it before," she says.

Fifty-seven-year-old Otu and husband Paerata have raised 11 children and one grandchild in the three-bedroom, one-bathroom Cannons Creek, Porirua, state house they moved into in 1979.

Paerata was laid off from his maintenance job last year and neither he nor Otu is in paid employment.

Otu volunteers at Wesley Community Action, an organisation that runs social programmes to help the community, including a food bank and budgeting services.

She also volunteers at Mary Potter Hospice, after the death of her 21-year-old son from cancer nearly eight years ago. And she helps out at the local playcentre.

But what Otu really wants is a job, to help her family climb out of the cycle of poverty. It's a cycle which, at times,made it hard to feed her children-all adults now but mostly still living in Cannons Creek, beneath the shadow of the new privately-built Aotea subdivision.

The cheapest Aotea house currently listed on TradeMe is a four-bedroom, two-bathroom property for $519,000;most are considerably more-one sold this week for $845,000. Some have views of Porirua Harbour, Titahi Bay and the Tasman Sea. Others look out over the top of Champion St, the multicultural Cannons Creek melting pot made famous by children's author Patricia Grace, to Wellington's Belmont Trig.

Down in Cannons Creek, you can pick up a three-bedroom, one bathroom property for $175,000.

But top Harcourts real estate agent Marty Ritchie,who sold the $845,000 Aotea house and lives in the new subdivision, plays down the inequality between the two neighbourhoods.

"When I started out, Cannons Creek was like Once were Warriors. There were burned-out cars on the front lawns," he says.

"But if you meet the people who live in Cannons Creek, they're very, very happy people. To them it's just another development.

"We've sold houses in Aotea to families from Cannons Creek.

It's the families who want to get ahead, who pool resources to buy a modern house. If you look at the people who are living in Aotea, we've got all cultures. I don't think there's an issue."

Otu Ahiao doesn't begrudge those in Aotea their wealth. Nor does she aspire to live there, happy withwhat she says is a fantastic sense of community in The Creek.

"They're there and we're here but tome, we're the same," Otu says. "It's just that they're in a different category, that's all."

"I've taught my children, let's be grateful for what we've got. And if you can help somebody out, then help them."

- Herald on Sunday

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