Wharekahika: Coming together to protect one another
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.
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.”
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”.
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.”