When kaimahi pulled up with two van loads of kids at Pirimai Te Kohanga Reo in Whanganui East this week, they did not expect to be confronted with the words "Welcome F***ers" at the doorstep.
Staff moved quickly to cover the offensive graffiti, before carefully ushering more than a dozen tamariki into the whare, their safe space, where they are nurtured and raised in tikanga Māori.
But around the back on the big glass doors that look onto the playground, a giant penis has been etched into the window.
The flowers the children planted the day before have been ripped from their pots.
Not long ago, someone broke in and smashed jars of preserved fruit and jam.
Another time someone broke a gate and stole two floor polishers from a locked shed.
There is something seriously disturbing about people attacking a place for children. And how demoralising for those kaimahi, who are doing their best to provide a safe and loving space for these babies.
It is hard for the attacks not to feel personal and it needs to stop.
Kohanga reo are an absolute taonga and serve an important purpose in Aotearoa and they should be treated with the utmost respect. Furthermore, they are underfunded.
They should be able to spend their money on resources for the tamariki, not replacing stolen equipment and installing expensive security systems.
It is particularly sad when Pirimai runs a free whanau-based childcare service for Whanganui families and would welcome and look after any of the babies or children from nearby neighbourhoods.
However, part of me also feels sorry for whoever is carrying out these pointless acts.
There is clearly bugger-all to do in Whanganui East, and the behaviour points to wider issues in our city – poverty, access to education and a lack of things for young people to do.
It is all fair and well to be buzzing off the back of the elections last weekend, and congratulations to our new Whanganui MP Steph Lewis and Te Tai Hauāuru MP Adrian Rurawhe, who kept his seat.
I am sure it has been an exciting week for you both, celebrating the red wave that also captured Whanganui, returning the general seat to Labour for the first time in 15 years.
But there are very serious social issues in our city that cannot be overlooked, and with the full economic impact of Covid-19 to come, things are set to get worse.
The pressure is on for Labour to deliver real change over the next term.
In my time as a journalist last year, I covered the string of violent murders of Māori women in our city. Domestic violence and P are major problems here.
The Koha Shed is dealing with record numbers of people – some buying tents to live in.
These bore down to systemic issues that will not be easy to unravel and fix, but at the very least, we need to see our MP's being vocal and championing transformative change.
It will be especially important for Adrian, with Māori Party candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer building a reputation as a strong voice for Māori and vowing to challenge him for the seat again in 2023.
It is much more difficult for MPs of Māori seats to be visible given the electorate spans the King Country, Taranaki, Whanganui and down to Porirua.
Nevertheless, Adrian will need to be seen advocating for Māori interests to keep his support strong.
I am also interested to see how Steph goes.
Neither myself nor any of my friends or whānau know anything about her, and I'm sure the nationwide lean to the left played in her favour.
Now is her time to show us what she is made of. And I wish them both all the best.
We have a lot to be grateful for living in Whanganui, but there is also a lot of work to do.
Many of our families are living hard lives and we must do better by them.
So that one day, members of our communities have better things to do than burgle and vandalise an innocent kohanga reo just for the heck of it.
Kaimahi – staff
Tamariki – children
Whare – house
Tikanga – customs
• Leigh-Marama McLachlan was born and raised in Whanganui and her whanau whakapapa to Koriniti Marae. After a decade in Māori journalism, she recently moved home with her two young boys to be closer to family and to bring them up strong in their Māoritanga.