Lisa Kahu’s passion for Māori health began in the 90s, as a volunteer for Te Tai O Marokura health and social services in Kaikoura. One of the first in New Zealand to be trained specifically to work alongside a Well Child Tamariki Ora (WCTO) nurse, she has now been working for Te Tai O Marokura for almost 20 years.
As a young mother in a rural community, Lisa had no choice in service provider of her baby’s health care. Regardless of whether the service was appropriate for her, she says it was a choice of either engaging or having no service at all. “Many did not engage and that was of detriment to themselves and sometimes their baby’s development, which went unmonitored. I wanted to be part of the conversation that changed that.”
Following a hui she attended, Te Tai O Marokura became one of the first Māori providers to be offered a WCTO contract. Lisa was in the first intake of Kaiāwhina (community Karitane) in New Zealand, trained by Plunket to work alongside a WCTO nurse and provide whānau with additional support, advocacy and education.
“I chose this career because I am passionate about Māori health, I believe in ‘for Māori by Māori’ as a method to engage some of our most difficult to reach whānau who may have previously had negative experiences within the health sector; and I want to be part of supporting parents to raise an amazing next generation.”
Lisa is the only contracted worker within her community, engaging with mothers directly, on both a one-on-one and group basis. “Our service is based on responding to the needs of our community,” she says. “I believe our vision of ‘Whakamana Ngāti Kuri’ – to strengthen Ngāti Kuri – is exactly what I’m trying to do on a daily basis with the whānau I serve; strengthening women to go forward in their journey as mothers, confident and well supported.”
Born in Kaikoura, Lisa moved away and often returned to the coastal town for holidays. On one such holiday, she met her husband Thomas, and never left. Now a mother of seven and grandmother of two, she cannot imagine living anywhere else. “I feel having a vested interest in the community that my children are growing up in and that I will live in for the rest of my days, is a positive factor for the mahi I do.”
Lisa joined the WCTO Quality Improvement (QI) steering group three years ago. She saw the value of being able to offer both a Māori and rural prospective. “It’s certainly a group that I’m more than happy to be part of and I see it adding value and worth to the sector with every action.” One of her roles in the group is highlighting issues faced by whānau. “I can give the perspective from an ‘on the ground’ level, as well as bring things back to our service. It’s really important we as a group are continually assessing to ensure we’re meeting the needs of whānau and offering a quality service from all providers across Te Waipounamu.”
One of Lisa’s passions is safe sleep; providing education within the community for both parents-to-be and new parents. “I love the fact that mahi I do on any particular day can support and invigorate a mother in her journey as a parent. I love that by being part of groups such as the South Island Alliance I can also talk about the big picture in the WCTO sector, giving a voice to what’s important.”She says her motivation is for every child and whānau to receive the very best care, the best education and services to make the best choices for themselves and their tamariki. “I am committed to doing my part to make that happen.”