November 2021

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On a sunny Thursday evening in Ōpunake a team of volunteers from Taranaki iwi are out treading the pavements checking in on whānau to see if they are doing ok since Delta arrived in our country and more recently in our region.

The team number around 10 iwi members, all wāhine with the exception of the local bus driver who is also the local courier. Tonight's outing is their third where they go street by street, door-to-door, asking everyone if they are ok – are they feeling well, do they need a test, have you got your jabs?

Led by local leader Patricia (Pat) Rangi, the team convene at her house on Fox Street before they head out. Pat allocates teams of kaiārahi (connectors or guides) to certain streets or mailbox numbers and they set out armed with information and the number for a mobile vax clinic on speed dial.

"We have had nothing but positive experiences," says kura teacher Kerry Tamatea who is out with daughter Sarah.

"If people don't want to talk about Covid then kei te pai but for the most part our Ōpunake families are just so cool, so friendly. It's actually really nice walking around the neighbourhood. We know a lot of these people, they are our whānaunga or we know the family from school."

"Having local knowledge and local faces really helps," says Pat. 

"We tend to know who lives where, if people are still at work so we should go round later or if a house is a holiday home and there's not likely to be anyone in.

"People here know us already – it's not daunting for them to have us show up on the doorstep. It's a bit like the old days of neighbourhood watch."

The initiative to send teams of iwi kaiarahi to homes is a new one. Māori vaccination rates in Taranaki are low in comparison to other ethnicities. With most early adopters already vaccinated finding new and innovative ways to persuade others onboard the vaccination waka is becoming more of a challenge.

Taranaki Iwi Chief Executive Wharehoka Wano says: "We actually started talking about this as an iwi last month when the blue whale washed ashore. While we were blessing her we started talking about how as iwi we can look out for each other when Covid eventually starts spreading in our community."

Cindy Ruakere who is coordinating the teams of kaiarahi in Taranaki said: "Vaccination is a key driver for us - we want to make sure our whānau are protected but its more than that we need to know people are safe if they get sick and that they have enough support, or if they have to self-isolate at home can they do that safely."

For now the kaiarahi are focused on promoting awareness and education about the vaccine. Teams of local leaders have been operating in Waitara for the last few weeks and new teams are due to start shortly in Spotswood and Marfell where vaccination rates are relatively low.

"We can see this service pivoting," says Paul Cummings, Project Lead for Te Aranga (the iwi recovery group that represents the eight iwi of Taranaki).

"This week several of the kaiarahi have learnt how to conduct saliva testing which for many is a more comfortable option than a nasal swab.

"We also want to see iwi leading the welfare effort because we know Delta is coming and we are using the time we have now to plan for that.

"The best thing about our teams is that they are already known and trusted in the communities where they are having these conversations. Whānau are more receptive to talking about Covid because they know the people they are talking to."

Tui Ora supports the service by standing up vaccination clinics:

"We have regular clinics in Marfell, Spotswood, Westown, Ōpunake and Waitara," says Tui Ora  Whānau Ora General Manager, Tamara Ruakere but we are now able to support these efforts with mobile units that can go directly to homes and whānau can be vaccinated in their lounge.

"We are doing what we can to break down barriers to vaccination. Sometimes this is just about having a clinic open in the town it's about whether its open at times that suit whānau if they work shifts or whether they can actually get their easily. The RV mobile takes all the pain out of that."


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