Getting by the Hokianga way

Whānau are working together to meet the needs of kuia and kaumātua in the Waihou area of the Hokianga during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Mita Harris (Ngāpuhi) and his sister Doda are providing regular shopping runs and other support for three elders who are isolated at home to avoid being infected by the deadly virus. At the request of whānau, the two kaimahi have committed to visiting and supporting their kuia and kaumātua with food drops at least once a week, and more often if required.

"We will be supplying food and rongoā (traditional medicine) to our kaumātua for the duration of the lockdown," Mr Harris said.

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"That's only one aspect though. Some of our elders don't necessarily understand the nature of the virus. Being available to talk with them really helps, either at the time we visit – at a distance, of course – or on the phone during the week."

The regular visits provided a welcome connection with whānau and the outside world, which was just as important as the food they delivered, while assistance was also being given with paying bills.

"There are technical challenges for example. You can never assume that people are able to pay their bills on line," he said.

"A lot of our people grew up hearing about the impact the 1918 influenza epidemic had on Māori around the country, and some of these stories are starting to surface as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a certain amount of panic and a feeling of being overwhelmed with the current situation. That's why it's so important for us to be available to listen and chat."

Protective measures were a priority with every visit, and both he and his sister were meticulous in their approach to distributing food.

"Because this is a high-risk age group we use gloves when we visit, we wash our hands very carefully, wear masks, and even spray the plastic bits of the shopping with disinfectant spray. It may seem a bit over the top, but it's absolutely necessary," Mr Harris added, while focusing on a few kaumātua and caring for them well was a strategic decision.

"The fewer contacts we have the better. It also means we can focus our energies and resources on the elders who really need the help," he said.

"Assistance is mainly food, although in some cases we've also delivered some chicken feed to keep the animals going. We've also had some specific requests, like fish and chips from Ōkaihau, coffee, wherever possible, and a $50 order for brisket and sausages, though the lockdown has taken some of these off the menu."

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Providing support for older members of the whānau, and being able to provide some words of comfort and encouragement during this difficult time, also kept the good Samaritans going.

"Fear is a big factor for some of our older whānau dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, and it's important to be able to provide some assistance, whether it's food, a listening ear or being a link to the outside world," he said.