The moon was full and its beam cast over whatawhata with intent, its time to connect and be a community Whatawhata.
Who could have predicted that the seemingly simple act of filling bellies would also open the heart and mind of a community?
A sense of Unity, Kinship and Equality has been relatively non existent from a community who’s population and geographic size would indicate these should be felt in abundance. The challenges are varied, generational hurts unresolved have limited kinship but the most obvious and paralysing, has been the social and cultural inequities that exist blatantly yet rarely acknowledged like a displaced, uncertain elephant in the room. Without a platform to disabandon perceptions, correct imbalances and gain understanding there was no opportunity for ‘community’ to thrive or even exist.
As a newcomer here I carried the guilt of having more than many of the people who were born from this land. We intruded and we came in droves, some of us righteous, others ignorant, some kind yet unreachable. We accessed our sprawling sections and XL homes, driving our SUVs through the ‘playgrounds’ of children whose grandparents had played there before them.
Growing up in Opotiki I have seen and lived both worlds. I witnessed acceptance and unity spanning social divides, I knew it was possible but where does it start?
Kai. It dawned on me early on that food does more for us as a species than just nourish our bodies. Having school aged children I recognised the leverage one can have in a small community to activate changes. I soon established I was not the only one wondering where our community spirit was hiding. A dynamic and engaged group of parents were awoken, all with different stories bringing them here.. After a time of denial (didn’t think I was a PTA type) we resurrected the PTA function within Whatawhata Kura, and as chairperson, I was suddenly surrounded by a force to be reckoned with.
Amongst other things we started providing lunch for hungry tamariki, one of our core objectives. Unfortunately the perception from some contradicted our desire to nurture children with no questions asked. It was deemed that children were taking advantage of the offering. This was the furthest from our minds, we just wanted kids to eat. What we witnessed during that period was much more powerful than even that. Senior kids who couldn’t have cared less before, cared! They grew in awhi and responsibility. Those who received food felt nurtured, grateful. They looked up to the peers who supported them. The system was not yet perfect but were getting there.
Although we were thwarted in the interim not all was lost. The generosity it began to evoke within the community was palpable and a hint of what was possible here spurred us on.
Our new journey began as many groups’ do, on a messenger thread, to discuss what could be done with the ripening fruit in the community garden. Through the thread I was able to connect the impassioned people in our committee with our local superstar and link between us all, Kawena Jones. The right people connected and magic began to happen.
With the best of intentions I promised to collect and distribute the fruit, I didn’t. We were worried, we were scared of the unknown and found it hard to think beyond our own bubbles. Kawe kept going. He developed the beginning of a database and began to support whānau through the marae.
With the covid affect in full force, it was time to ask for help from a community I wasn’t sure was even there.
Overwhelmed. Suddenly the kindness poured out from the houses and hearts of people who could give and into the hearts and houses of those who needed it most. Groceries dropped off and collected, dollars transferred, happiness and gratitude shared in equal measure. The spontaneous swell of positive intent soon attracted the attention of several organisations and agencies, a big mihi to – Poata at Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project HAIP, Waikato Women’s Refuge supported by -The Waikato Maori coalition members, Ngaruawahia Tu Tangata, Waahi Whaanui, Hau Ora O Ngati Haua, Te Runanga O Kirikiriroa.
What started as a quick food drive has transformed into a vehicle from which our connection can continue on the foundation we built.
During this time of great disturbance and uncertainty we have arrived at a place where we can begin to write our future together. Through our collaboration with the Ngāti Maahanga Hourua people, Oomaero Paa, the mana whenua, we can maximise our reach and the impact we all have. The goal – to unify, connect and provide support to the people of Whatawhata, all the indicators of a real life thriving Community.
“Mahia te mahi hei painga mō te iwi – do the work for the betterment of the people” – Princess Te Puia.
by Leonie Verran