In Wharekahika (Hicks Bay), the community response to COVID-19 started several weeks before Lockdown already, as an abrupt halt to Chinese log exports led to a surge of unemployment around the East Coast in February.  Knowing that whanau would need support with food and other essentials, Ani Pahuru-Huriwai (Trustee of Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust, and Executive Director at Tairawhiti REAP) turned to her networks. She approached philanthropic, iwi and government contacts for funding, Gizzy Kai Rescue for food and her trusted kaimahi to help coordinate the ordering, dispatch and delivery of kai and care packages. 

Wharekahika: Coming together to protect one another  Inspiring Communities

We were able to supply 70 homes with food in the first week of Lockdown, rising to 100 homes in the second week. “

“We were able to supply 70 homes with food in the first week of Lockdown, rising to 100 homes in the second week. This grew to 200 households weekly when our Te Araroa whanau joined us. We had two people ringing homes twice a week to identify needs, and 10 volunteers doing deliveries – in some cases they were driving two hours to reach whanau in really remote places – gravel roads, crossing rivers, stock and subsidence were regular hazards.” 

Wharekahika: Coming together to protect one another  Inspiring Communities

We had two people ringing homes twice a week to identify needs, and 10 volunteers doing deliveries to 200 households every week.”

Hapu and community-led action to minimise risk

But in order to fully protect the community, more, and quite different work was needed during the rahui (lockdown). Despite government messages to restrict travel, tourists were still entering the area prior to Lockdown. In response to this (and following the example of the checkpoints established in Apanui), a hapu roadside checkpoint was set up on State Highway 35 to remove that risk to their community. This was spearheaded by Tina Ngata and Ani, with support from the  local hapu Te Whanau a Tuwhakairiora. 
Other hapu and communities from Te Araroa to Tolaga went on to establish checkpoints themselves, along with the neighbouring iwi Te Whanau-a-Apanui. The goal was clear: “keep the virus out, and our whakapapa safe”. 

“Keep the virus out, and our whakapapa safe.”

Good communication between the checkpoints was essential to achieve this goal, and the checkpoint team made sure to connect daily with others around the Coast, as well as with police and central government. Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust moreover contacted the national Motorhome Association with the request to ask their members and visitors not to travel to the East Cape, as the population was at high risk of contracting the virus. “The Motorhome Association President sent out our email to over Ninety thousand members asking them to respect our request. A popular tourist destination in the area is the East Cape lighthouse, and the landowners closed access to it to help our cause. We were very grateful for such a strong level of support.”

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However  the checkpoint team did much more than talking to tourists and closing off the area. “At the checkpoints themselves we were able to pass on information and updates to locals, and even to the authorities who may not have heard it otherwise.”  For example, Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust organised a mobile health unit to come out to the top of the Tairawhiti region, which was gratefully received by the community:

“We had 200 people come out to be tested (for COVID-19) – and that was because of all the educating being done at the checkpoints in Wharekahika and Te Araroa.”

ANI PAHURU-HURIWAI 

Changes made to last

Things are now slowly returning to a ‘new normal’ on the coast – but some measures would have been most welcome to stay. “During the lock-down we had a doctor here every day, now we are back to limited services. We had four police officers, now we have one.” Many members of the community may have wished for the Level 4 restrictions to continue, as they created such a strong sense of community. People felt grateful for the weekly awhi and manaaki they received during the rahui.” 

Wharekahika: Coming together to protect one another  Inspiring Communities

People felt grateful for the weekly awhi and manaaki they received during the rahui.” 

Local police officers joined the checkpoint teams for extra support.

To honour this kaupapa and to move forward, the Wharekahika community are now actively working to increase their resilience. “ A food sovereignty plan is being developed, with different teams responsible for kai moana, mara kai, hunting, food processing and so on. We also realised that having local residents certified as wardens would be a great support for the community, so a Maori warden training programme was initiated and completed, with funding provided by Te Puni Kokiri”.

To thank those who stepped up and tirelessly volunteered their time and resources over the Rahui, the community organised a big Whanau Day and offered koha to the helpers: a recognition that without them, this strong and united response to the crisis would not have been possible. Ani says she is very grateful to the many sponsors, funders, sheep stations and food production companies who provided support.

“Thanks to them, we were able to ensure that even the most isolated whanau in our community were fed and able to keep safe in their bubbles during the most trying of times.”

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