Activity Based Recovery Programme Co-ordinator , Activity Based Recovery Programme
Five years in her role hasn’t dimmed the energy of Nadja Bernhardt, Activity Based Recovery Programme Co-ordinator at Tui Ora.
With a Masters in social work, she left Germany eight years ago and headed to what she thought was the other side of the world. “After I finished my studies I decided to fulfill my dream to come to NZ because I knew about it since I was a teenager when I read an article about how you could snowboard and surf in one day. To be close to the ocean and the mountains - it was my passion to be in the outdoors so I took up the opportunity.”
As a student Nadja worked at school holiday camps for at-risk, vulnerable children.
“I really enjoyed making a difference in their lives by creating a caring environment and fun activities where they could enjoy themselves. And that set me on the path to studying social work.”
Prior to leaving Germany she also facilitated outdoor based programmes for groups including young offenders based on the concept of experiential learning to train social skills.
This experience is vital for her current position where she works alongside tangata whai ora whose wellbeing is impacted by mental health and addiction issues.
Most battle with long-term conditions and have required support for many years; for others support is short-term, lasting just a few months.
Tangata whaiora who join the programme often struggle with low self-esteem and anxiety, low motivation and energy levels, have limited social connections, are experiencing loneliness and isolation and often face multiple health challenges.
“Our activities provide a safe environment where whaiora can enjoy relationships with others, knowing that they are not alone and that there are others going through similar challenges in life and that creates hope and a sense of belonging.”
The programme is accessible to adults over 18 years who are supported by a clinical mental health key worker.
Client ability and wellness levels vary. The programme first establishes an individual’s wellbeing goals. Says Nadja: “We try to develop the programme with tangata whaiora needs, strength and interests in mind so we incorporate new activities’ as new people come on board.
“Within Tui Ora we have the opportunity to connect with other kaimahi and their skills. Currently we have a thai chi teacher involved in our relaxation workshops and kuia and kaumātua teaching cultural knowledge and protocols around waiata, karakia, whakapapa, Te Reo Māori and tikanga in a marae based setting.
“Embracing Te Ao Māori and working within the Whānau Ora framework provides a wide range of new positive experiences for both tangata whaiora and kaimahi.”
Self-stigma is strong, points out Nadja. But if people overcome internal barriers there are positive outcomes such as taking up volunteering roles, studying, going on to support others in the same situation or helping Nadja run activity groups as some tangata whai ora currently are.
“It’s very rewarding to witness positive changes like someone’s growth in confidence and being part of their journey to recovery.
“The other great thing is we try to have sessions in the community so we use local halls, sports clubs, outdoor facilities…. they are neutral venues where people are not labelled as mental health service users.”
Nadja enjoys networking with other similar organisations in the sector, and taps into a range of resources like the New Start Community Gardens and the Community Café at Taranaki Cathedral.
“I appreciate my role a lot because it’s about focusing on people’s strengths and assisting people to feel good about themselves.”
Her ‘medicine’ is not pills (although the reality is that many tangata whai ora will need to take medication) but other parts of health that can rebalance a person’s wellbeing.
“I really enjoy working for Tui Ora as a kaupapa Māori organisation because the principles like whanaungatanga and manaakitanga represent my values as well. It means for me that we are not working in isolation. Instead it’s about creating connections with each other in the workplace and using the whānau ora approach as an amazing wrap around concept that strengthens people’s wellbeing, lifts their wairua and contributes to better outcomes. “