Supporting the wellbeing of Pasifika communities

Issue: Volume 100, Number 14

Posted: 3 November 2021
Reference #: 1HAQwS

A Pacific mental wellbeing programme is uniting parents and teachers to support each other with the stressors of everyday life, including burnout and anxiety.

Rowandale students enjoying the array of stalls at the wellbeing expo.

Rowandale students enjoying the array of stalls at the wellbeing expo.

Earlier this year, Rowandale School in Manurewa trialled a new programme that aimed to help Pasifika parents and their teachers in a way that hadn’t been done before.

To mark the end of this unique and successful trial, the school hosted a mental health and wellbeing expo in June. The event was attended by parents, students, and the wider Pasifika school community.

The expo brought about awareness of available support networks such as the New Zealand Police, food banks, and social and mental health services. The expo also provided further pathways to expand on the teachings of the programme.

It was of particular significance for the school to host the expo as they were one of the first to agree to trial Le Toloa.

Le Toloa

Le Toloa is the brainchild of highly qualified and experienced Pasifika mental health specialists Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann MNZM and Leota Dr Lisi Kalisi Petaia who combined hold 70 years of clinical experience. Lisi and Fuimaono, both Samoan Ali’i matai (high chiefs), intrinsically incorporate cultural, clinical and community approaches in all their work.

“We also unashamedly focus on women. Mothers and women are the centre of all Pacific families,” says Fuimaono.

 Representatives from the local Police shared some insights into their work in the community.

Representatives from the local Police shared some insights into their work in the community.

They created the programme to work with Pasifika communities to deliver the best available and appropriate mental health support and mental health workforce development training.

Unpacking shared stressors

Fuimaono explains that their talanoa (conversational) styled sessions were crucial in creating a safe environment for parents and teachers to speak openly with each other.

Through these sessions the participants discovered that many of their issues were similar in nature. Burnout, stress and anxiety were the most prevalent issues.

The added stressor of Covid-19 only heightened these issues. The programme sought to unpack these discussions and provide a pathway of understanding and skill in detecting mental unwellness for their participants and their loved ones.

“Our biggest problem is not identifying those problems and not getting help sooner,” says Fuimaono.

Rowandale students making full use of the beautiful weather and bouncy castles!

Rowandale students making full use of the beautiful weather and bouncy castles!

“Raising awareness in terms of where to go to get help in a timely fashion is so crucial. We wanted to provide information to change the attitudes towards getting help.”

Le Toloa adopts the Fonofale model of health: a system of wellbeing, developed by Fuimaono, that acknowledges and embraces Pacific perspectives.

“Fonofale model helps the understanding of why we need to integrate all those issues into mental health. Mental health is not just about clinical health or physical health, it’s influenced by our families, our belief systems, the way we were brought up,” explains Fuimaono.

Leota adds, “Our main emphasis was to help these teachers and parents to stay well, look after themselves, look after their children and get them some skills to help them maintain good mental wellbeing.

“We made a point of working with teachers and parents because these are adults that are surrounding the students for much of the time during the day. So, they need to be educated about early warning signs of mental unwellness and help them understand where to go to for help.”

Leota stresses the importance of discussions around mental health and wellbeing being spearheaded by skilled and competent professionals.

“These are not easy discussions to have and if they are not approached appropriately, they could be damaging to all who are involved.”

Le Toloa was funded through the first tranche of Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga’s Pacific Support Funds. Since its launch, the programme has been delivered to over 500 parents, teachers, and students in the South Auckland area.

Next steps

Following the end of the programme, participants have been set up in peer support groups to continue the discourse they had undertaken throughout the duration of the programme and to support each other. Le Toloa has connected each group with a mental health service provider in their area.

 Parents and the wider school community got a chance to learn more about local mental health and wellbeing services.

Parents and the wider school community got a chance to learn more about local mental health and wellbeing services.

The success of the programme at Rowandale School has prompted the development of a school policy to implement the teachings of the programme.

Le Toloa founders are looking to expand their programme to more schools across South Auckland and eventually, nationally. The team are also working through a plan to deliver the programme to secondary schools.

Pacific Education Support Fund

The Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Support Fund is available for community providers, groups, and organisations to help learners and their families to meet education-related and wellbeing needs arising from and/or exacerbated by Covid-19.

The Pacific Education Support Fund is part of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and invests $39.7m over four years (2020/21 to 2023/24) to broker support for Pacific learners and families to access education.

The next tranche of funding will open for applications in 2022.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:07 AM, 3 November 2021

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