My first day back at work I am welcomed by Pam O'Keefe with a big smile and a hug. We spend the time catching up with holiday news. Pam and Henare had time to relax and are thrilled their daughter and son-in-law with family are back from Australia to live. Thankfully, Te Aranga Marae was quiet over the holiday period.
The first week back at work for 2016 is already busy. Gary our head contractor gardener is furious. Our 5.4ha garden yet again has been vandalised. Bins tipped over, fruit stripped from trees, the beehives knocked over, and part of the fence set on fire.
It's disheartening but both Henare and I cajole Gary back to his good humour. We suspect it's children from a neighbouring street. Dad in jail, mum struggling on her own. We go out to the garden to run the plough over the potato patch for a last dig. Lovely rocket potatoes. We also harvest Maori potatoes. How fortunate am I to have a job that I can have my hands in the soil on day one?
I am in the office with my (Marshall) headphones on, streaming jazz when I receive a knock on the marae office door. Emma, having completed her Masters in dietetics is offering to do some voluntary work with me. I am blessed! We discuss a number of ideas such as putting together healthy food parcels in preparation for winter months. Healthy nutritious low cost, with simple recipes for our families.
We discuss a project where U-Turn partnered with the HBDHB and Plunket "First Foods' to introduce healthy solids to infants six months and over.
The community garden or gardens in homes would complement this project - ensuring our young mums have their own garden in which to grow vegetables. This project is based on the premise that the first seven years lays the foundation for having a healthy weight later in life. Healthy eating during pregnancy - breast feeding and then introduction of healthy solids, which should not be before six months, and healthy eating particularly those first seven years is so important.
During my first week back I also attend a follow-up gang action plan meeting held at the community link building in Flaxmere. Government employees bureaucrats are offering to resource us to work with those very complex families. At the first meeting community members ask that the word gang be deleted and the word whanau be adopted.
One cannot help but be wary. Accepting government funding has fishhooks. Having worked for the Hawke's Bay District Health Board (as a bureaucrat) Flaxmere, as with other communities, is littered with pieces of work that have been started, developed and then stopped. Healthy Eating Healthy Action, Kahungunu Hikoi Whenua, Health Impact Assessments is a classic example.
It's incredibly disheartening to develop a programme, find resources and then have to say to the community - sorry there is not funding for this any more. As Henare would say - we need to cut the umbilical cord from government. We are intoxicated by it.
I am pleased Rex Timu project manager whanau development co-ordinator and President of the Mongrel Mob local chapter is present. If we are going to change the gang culture it needs to be led by the gangs themselves. The Mongrel Mob has been around for 50 years. I sit with Rex before the meeting starts. Rex tells me - you know Ana - I believe the main solution is... and we are interrupted. This story can wait for another time.
This same week I meet with a number of agencies looking to insulate homes in Flaxmere. The Hawke's Bay District Health Board has dedicated funding for healthy warm homes. We agree to take a pragmatic approach and start with a cluster of streets and ripple out from there. We know the areas where the quality of houses is poor and consequently the children are unwell. We all have big hopes for this project. Once homes are insulated we would like to work with home owners so there is a heating device and good ventilation in all homes in Flaxmere.
We know the quality of housing plays an important role in children's health and wellbeing. This could save children's lives.
- Ana Apatu is chief executive of the U-Turn Trust, based at Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere.