Eli-Ana Maiava created Whare Manaaki – a Kaupapa Māori community space for Mawhera (Greymouth) locals – knowing that a similar space was a valuable support system for her when she was a new mother. “My life was literally saved by a community space when I was living in the Hutt Valley,” she says.
“I had been experiencing some quite traumatic mental health issues and the scariest thing for me at the time was to be home alone with my baby. So, I could go there and be around other people, have a conversation and a cup of tea while someone held my baby.”
After moving to Mawhera from Wellington three years ago to connect with her iwi and Māori whakapapa, Eli’s aim was to work specifically for improving wellbeing of Māori on the West Coast, where her whānau are from. This led to a role in Community and Public Health (CPH) as Hauora Māori Health Promoter, when she noticed a gap in the community and decided to create Whare Manaaki.
What started out as a parenting programme, grew into a kaupapa Māori space for the entire community, offering a range of programmes to meet a variety of needs. Eli’s 20-year background of early childhood teaching, as well as mentoring, management, and a master’s degree in adult education was useful in creating and leading the programmes.
She also carried out research by interviewing 20 whānau on the West Coast about what their needs were and what barriers stood in the way of them being met. “How do we ensure our babies have good lives, with solid parenting? It’s about making sure that their whānau have their basic needs met so they have the capacity to then actively and intentionally think about the way they’re interacting and caring for their tamariki. That can be challenging when they’ve got a lot of stress hanging over their heads. We decided that a culturally safe, warm and inviting space where you can bring your family was the best way to support Māori parenting here on the Coast.”
The programmes range from gardening groups and breakfast clubs, to pepi and whānau coffee groups, and community Kapa Haka. “Māma or whānau can drop in for kai, community dinners or a cup of tea, and we’ve got plenty of resources for the tamariki to play with. We also do a Te Reo Māori playgroup where we do a bit of a song and a book reading session, to encourage use of Te Reo.”
An antenatal group is being developed and a Friday night rangatahi hangout programme has just started. Teenagers can come in off the street, have some kai, play some games and “just chill out together – there’s nowhere else for them to hang out on a Friday night.”
Staff at Whare Manaaki are currently working with other agencies to run a Safe Woman, Safe Family group, for women affected by violence in their lives, as victims or offenders. “We’ve also got a lunch programme where people can come and make kai and take it away for work or school, so that they’ve got full bellies. We offer everything with no judgement, we’ve got a pataka (pantry), vegetable garden and a freezer full of food to share with anyone. We’ve also got a community cupboard full of blankets and shoes and children’s clothes – people can help themselves.”
Eli, a mother of four tamariki aged 4 to 13 years, has resigned from her CPH role so she can dedicate more time to Whare Manaaki, which has grown exponentially. “There is just so much need, interest and support for it in the community. I’m not doing it alone, it’s part of a bigger collective and a community-led space and we all do our bit. It just took someone to take that first step and provide a space, and everyone else is filling it with all of these wonderful things.”
Eli is also a part of the South Island Alliance, Te Pā Harakeke/Nurturing Care in the First 1000 Days steering group, which is currently creating its framework principles for health services. “It goes back to well whānau and parents create well children, so looking a bit wider than just the children’s needs – what are the family’s needs in relation to doing well with that child?”
She says her ultimate goal in life is to raise wonderfully kind, confident and independent children. “And because I think collectively, like Māori tend to, I know that I can’t create those things for my children without them being surrounded by those things outside of our home as well. Ultimately, it’s about creating the environment I want my tamariki and other tamariki to grow up in, that’s going to instil a positive sense of identity and collective thinking around sharing of resources and wellbeing. That’s what I want in any project that I’m involved in, is to help create a better world for our tamariki.”