This Christmas, the Herald is profiling 12 charities chosen to get a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport as part of its 12 Days of Christmas giving programme – now in its 12th year. The $144,000 comes from generous travellers who donate money in globes throughout the airport.

Weaving cultures together is what Ruapotaka Marae does best.

Manager Georgie Thompson says the Glen Innes community marae welcomes refugees and migrants to Tamaki by sharing Māori cultural practices. "We do that by having fun."

"What we've found is that too much talking bores everybody. If we can engage through activities like flax weaving and poi making, that gets our hands talking and helps get our mouths talking. That's where we break down the shyness of our new families and begin to share each other's cultures," she says.

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Many of the arrivals have come from traumatic experiences in their home countries. "We want to support them and let them know they're welcome - especially from an indigenous perspective," she says.

Ruapotaka Marae is one of 12 organisations receiving a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport as part of its 12 Days of Christmas giving programme.

Arrivals are welcomed with an official pōwhiri ceremony, after which it's meaning is explained. "We tell them that once they undertake that process, they actually become family of our marae. So they're welcome to come back in any time. Understanding that helps give them a sense of belonging," Georgie says.

Straight after that a meal is shared to balance the process. "That helps us connect the existing marae whānau with our new marae whānau. We try to give them traditional food if possible; not always hāngī - there's other foods like takakau, a flatbread made from flour and water we cook in the oven. It's actually very similar to many other cultures; the same recipe but cooked differently – maybe over an open fire," she says.

Karen Nathan with Felix family. Photo / Ollie Dale
Karen Nathan with Felix family. Photo / Ollie Dale

Migrant families are invited to learn Māori action songs, swing poi and weave little stars, fish and flowers out of flax cut from beside the creek next to the marae. Some progress to the stages of weaving baskets and learning the All Blacks' haka Ka Mate and the meaning behind it. Traditional Māori values like manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, wairuatanga and arohatanga underpin all that is shared.

Another popular workshop is on the Tiriti o Waitangi. "We just share the basics; what the Treaty's about, how the document was signed between the two parties and what place the Māori people have in this country. We try to get people to understand that Aotearoa New Zealand is a bi-cultural country but a multi-cultural community," Georgie says.

"It's interesting because I've been doing this work for over 30 years, nearly 20 here at Ruapotaka, and it's usually our own New Zealanders that find it hard to understand what the Treaty of Waitangi is about and how significant it is for us."

The refugee and migrant welcomes are just one of the programmes on offer from Ruapotaka which has a small number of workers but taps into the wider community to assist wherever possible to build social cohesion. "When we all need to come together to support the likes of our refugee and migrant community, we do it very well," she says.

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The marae's next project is a water safety initiative with the Burmese community. "Many of our refugees and migrants have a fear of water, especially our big oceans, so we're going to do a project where 30 Burmese children can come and do water safety in our local pools," she says.

Auckland Airport general manager of corporate service Mary-Liz Tuck says the organisation has a deep appreciation of tikanga Māori and indigenous history. "We love the passion of Ruapotaka Marae to bring the wider community together to educate them about tikanga as well as help boost the community spirit," she says.

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