Culturally sustaining hauora programmes

Issue: Volume 102, Number 12

Posted: 13 September 2023
Reference #: 1HAc6w

Mana Ake works with Waitaha (Canterbury) kura, providing children in Years 1–8 support in their mental health and wellbeing. As part of the wider programme, two specific cultural initiatives have been developed: Building Pasifika Fanau and Ko Wai Au, working with Pacific and Māori tamariki.

 12. Culturally sustaining 01

Building Pasifika Fanau and Ko Wai Au were developed out of a belief that one’s health and wellness is linked to one’s culture. Our culture frames how we see the world and ourselves. 

The two initiatives provide practical skills to connect ākonga with their culture, as well as tools for mindfulness and resilience and reflective practices: “Mana resulting from strength of character”.

Mana Ake kaimahi in Waitaha are employed by one of 12 NGO providers including kaiako, youth workers, counsellors and psychologists.

Building Pasifika Fanau

The Building Pasifika Fanau initiative provides Pacific tamariki with cultural tools to understand and improve their mental health and wellbeing and work on creating a positive self-identity.

The Building Pasifika Fanau group was built by Pacific kaimahi, in correspondence with their local community. The only criterion to be in the group is that you are Pacific people.

As of July 2022, there were just under 5,000 Pacific ākonga attending Canterbury kura out of 98,000 ākonga. 

Canterbury social worker Sina Latu helps to facilitate Building Pasifika Fanau. 

Within the initiative, kaimahi can do one on one work with ākonga, group support, school and kaiako guidance, and provide advice to parents too.

“There are many pockets of work you can do and over time we’ve allowed flexibility for how the programme can work,” says Sina.

“For us Pacific kaimahi, we saw that there was a gap and there wasn’t anything for Pacific ākonga and fanau.

“We then had to voice this and do a lot of advocating for ourselves to create the group and then do the work to get where we are now.”

Sina says the aim is to build confidence, self-esteem, pride and to enable ākonga to feel like they have a space within their kura that is dedicated to themselves and to create that connection between one another and their cultural identity.

The Building Pasifika Fanau groups started officially in July 2020. They work following school terms, with five groups each term and 7–15 children in each group with six sessions a term.

“We’ve been working with at least 50 ākonga per term since the initiatives began.”

At the beginning of each session, the group will start by doing a karakia and then check-ins on how everyone is feeling. The session ends with another karakia, a reflection on the day and a chat about what everyone is looking forward to.

The sessions change depending on the age group, with flexibility in the programme. 

“For our seniors, we build in a lot of Pacific language, like introductions, and then we introduce a phrase of the day which we incorporate throughout the session,” says Sina.

“A lot of kaiako will incorporate snappy words to bring everyone together, like mili mili patia too.”

Nurturing the vā

As the sessions continue, they teach the concept of ‘Vā’, which for Pacific people is to respect and maintain the sacred space, harmony, and balance within relationships. Ākonga learn about personal values and how everyone is interconnected. At the end, a group treaty is created. 

One tool used is a Sāmoan framework called the Fonofale Model. This model is made up of five dimensions of life that are interdependent and complementary to each other. In order to have harmony and balance, health issues should be addressed at all dimensions. 

Each session has a different theme, from identity, emotions, and language, to island cooking or Pacific art and games.

Ākonga participating in the programme from Westburn School in Christchurch say they have loved learning about their culture, especially the dawn raids, a time many ākonga did not know about previously.

One ākonga says learning about the dawn raids connected her with her family as she learned her grandfather had to change his name to an English one to avoid police persecution.

Sina says they hope to one day expand their work into the wider community. 

“For Pacific people and mental health and wellbeing, we have a big emphasis on knowing who you are and where you come from and I think for those that come out of the islands, or are some generations ahead, the distance to the connection can feel quite far,” says Sina.

“When ākonga spend six hours at school and have nothing Pacific based or that looks or speaks like them, it can be quite hard.”

The Building Pasifika Fanau initiative works hard to provide this representation to ākonga.

“Building Pasifika was an inspiration to keep our culture going and to be proud of who we are. Don’t let anyone put you down, everyone should be themselves and stay that way,” says a Westburn School ākonga. 

Ko Wai Au

The Ko Wai Au initiative works to provide the 15,000 Māori ākonga in Waitaha primary kura with a sense of their own cultural identity. 

The name of the initiative translates to “Who Am I?” and it encourages ākonga Māori to investigate their personal and cultural values. This fosters a strong sense of identity which in turn helps to provide ākonga with the tools to support their personal wellbeing journey. 

The programme is about seven weeks long, with a weekly 45-minute session in a small group setting. 

Purapura Whetu is a kaupapa Māori provider hosting the majority of kaimahi Māori who run the Ko Wai Au initiative. 

A big part of Ko Wai Au is engaging ākonga in hands-on activities. For example, tamariki learn how to weave harakeke and carve into wood and bone. Those activities stand out to ākonga as for many it is a completely new experience for them. 

Akonga also learn their mihimihi and pepeha and are encouraged to share this at home. 

Māori kaupapa and kawa are explored through mau rākau underpinned by the principles of Te Whare Tapa Whā.

Māori ākonga from Parkview Pārua School take part in the weekly initiative, connecting with their culture, making new connections with their whānau and community.

Further reading

Concerning Mental health support for West Coast communities, read more about how the launch of Tai Poutini Mana Ake on the South Island’s West Coast is bringing students and communities closer to mental health support and services in even the most remote parts of the region. 

Click here for more information about Mana Ake.(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:20 pm, 13 September 2023

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