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A group of mothers tackling social issues in Manukau are celebrating the opening of a community house near a former tough "ghetto".

Liz Kiriona, 47, and Lyn Mehana, 45, have been on what they call a crusade against drink, drugs and younger "gangstas" for six years in the decile one Rata Vine state housing area south of the modernistic Pacific Events Centre.

On Friday, they celebrated a campaign landmark with the opening of a community house and fence with decorative patterns put up by 80 locals in a working bee.

Three pillars with bright mosaics made by local children will be set up outside the house as soon as weather permits.

Their achievements are seen as a model by organisers of Auckland's first "Neighbours Day" on October 17 when people throughout the region are being urged to say hello to their neighbours.

Mrs Kiriona, whose mother-in-law was one of Rata Vine's first residents in the 1980s, said problems in the area stemmed from drinking, especially in a park in Laurelia Place where 25 small units which the residents called "tin sheds" were finally removed by Housing New Zealand last year.

Manurewa Community Board member Alan Johnson said police had told him that a significant part of South Auckland's domestic violence and truancy came from this small area of 200 homes.

"Most of the people are good people, but it only takes half-a-dozen people to turn a neighbourhood into a rathole."

Conversely, it has taken only two mothers to turn it around.

"There used to be a gang here. We are the gangs now," Mrs Kiriona said.

She and Ms Mehana, whose children have grown up together and who work together at The Warehouse in Manukau, started their campaign six years ago by gathering more than 200 signatures door-to-door on a petition for a liquor ban in the park.

"We got to go to the council, around the table. That was scary," Mrs Kiriona said. "We had to put our arguments across. There were a couple in there who supported us, and the police said we ought to get it. We came out and we got it."

The ban empowered the mothers to intervene when they saw drinking in the park, knowing they could call the police for back-up.

But Mrs Kiriona said their main power was "just being in their face".

"When we saw them up at the park drinking or whatever, we used to go up there," she said.

Other parents saw what they were doing and started seeking out the two mothers. "If they have any problems, we get them knocking on our door," Mrs Kiriona said.

"The latest I've had them knocking is 1.30 in the morning. That's fine, it comes part and parcel.

"It's taken us a lot of years to gain the trust out there, but the support they give us is unbelievable."

Housing NZ has provided the community house, a community garden and a tool library, including lawnmowers and weedeaters which are available for residents to borrow from Mrs Kiriona's garage.

On the evening of September 2, 450 adults and children from Rata Vine and adjoining Wiri marched with lanterns from Wiri Central School to the new community house to show that the community was finally safe.

Etelina Tau, a mother of four who has lived in Rata Vine for 22 years, said she was on the verge of moving out four years ago because of the drinking and fighting.

"But Liz and Lyn started doing the community stuff and I thought to myself that this is a safe place to be," she said.

"I'm a grandmother now with a 2-year-old granddaughter. I'm so glad we are having a community here, we really need a safe place for her."

NEIGHBOURS DAY IDEAS

* Say hello, kia ora, talofa, malo e lelei, ni hao or whatever works for you and your neighbour.
* Bake a batch of muffins for your neighbour or invite them over.
* Next time you mow your grass verge, cut your neighbours' verge too.
* Pop a note into everyone's letterbox asking if people are interested in getting to know one another.
* Exchange phone numbers in case of emergencies.
* Organise afternoon tea or a barbecue for people in your street.

Source: www.neighboursday.org.nz