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Needs run the gamut; from new mum to about-to-be home schoolers

A young Vanuatu woman, 29-weeks pregnant, was expecting to be back in her home country by now, after a season working on Hawke’s Bay orchards. But after two flights  were cancelled at the last minute due to COVID-19, she was stranded with no way to get home, no access to maternity care, no maternity or baby clothes, and no idea how to find support.

In stepped the region’s Migrant Welfare Group, which works with Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence. The membership includes the Office of Ethnic Communities, represented in Hawke’s Bay by Rizwaana Latiff, and the Hawke’s Bay Multicultural Association.

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the work done by this group is an example of the selfless volunteer work going on across Hawke’s Bay to get people through this time.

Mrs Hazlehurst put out a call for Hastings Heroes nominations last week; community volunteers who are going the extra mile. “Everyone is a hero during this time – from our essential and emergency workers making sure we can survive this, to all of us staying home in our bubbles. But I wanted to make sure we did not forget our volunteers who are quietly going about supporting their communities; ensuring that our most vulnerable have the things they need to get through this time.”

Three nominations came in over the first three days, with many more expected.

This self-isolation period is tough on everyone, as we try to keep up with the latest information on the constantly changing situation, and what we need to do. But for our ethnic communities there are even more challenges, with cultural, language and religious barriers adding to the stress.

Mrs Latiff, a registered nurse and midwife with strong links to Hastings District Council, the health authorities, Civil Defence, and the region’s ethnic communities through her former role as President of the multicultural association, knew Hawke’s Bay’s estimated 20,000 migrants would need extra help.

First up was mobilising the huge support  team, including ‘champions’ from each of the near-20 ethnic communities who had put their hands up over the last two years to be key contacts for their communities in times of crisis – forming a very effective voluntary communications tree.

The tasks the welfare group have coordinated are many and varied: Arranging the making of videos of key health and welfare messages in 12 languages (with more on the way), finding halal suppliers still able to provide meat, supporting Pacific Islanders stuck in New Zealand and terribly stressed after last week’s ‘monster storm’ swept through the region leaving them unable to contact their families, assisting families about to embark on homeschooling their children, helping with immigration and employment issues, and preparing food parcels.

And of course, the expectant mum: A call to the health authorities secured funded maternity care, and the region’s Indian community has provided three boxes of maternity and baby clothes.

In Camberley, Camberley School principal Amohia Rolls is leading from the front, rallying her team of teachers, support staff and the community, to ensure everyone gets through COVID-19 with as little stress possible. The school swung into action the minute the 48-hours’ notice to lockdown was announced, casting a caring net across the tight-knit community.

Ms Rolls ensured all of the school students’ family contact details were up-to-date, sorted the families into whānau groups and assigned each group to a team member and whānau representative, said deputy principal Beth Kauika. Staff were also sorted into teams (information, response and delivery), with every family to be contacted at least weekly to ensure they had everything they needed and assisting those needing help.

And it has not stopped there; the community’s informal messaging tree has been adding other families to the list, suggesting who needs help with what, especially for those most at risk from the virus. “The success of the initiative is down to the community being so close knit, with the school at the heart of it. We took an integrated whānau approach and wanted to feed information up rather than information down.

“We started to provide support to our community as the need arose and then aligned ourselves with community services once they were up and running. We didn’t want to wait for directives, as we knew our community well and knew what the needs would be, so set ourselves up based on our local knowledge. If we had waited we would have had a lot of families struggling.”

Mrs Hazlehurst says the school is doing an amazing job, led by a real Hastings Hero. “It shows just how important community is as a time like this. Yes, there are things that Council can do, but we cannot do it all. I am so proud that we have so many people across Hastings stepping up to do everything they can to get their communities through.”

At almost the opposite end of the district, Waimarama man Richard Gaddum is making the most of the time he spends outdoors getting his daily dose of fresh air and exercise close to home. He decided early on to don his gardening gloves and carry a bag to put litter into, and just as well he took a large bag. He has collected an astounding amount of rubbish, cleaning up his community while staying COVID-safe.

He suggested everyone taking their daily exercise do the same: Wear gloves, stay two-metres away from anyone not in your home bubble, and pick up some trash.

“Imagine how much more beautiful our amazing district would be if we all did this; not just now, but always,” said Mrs Hazlehurst. “It’s a real Hastings Hero thing to do: take the issues we are having to deal with and turning them into a positive.”

Nominate Hastings Heroes on Council’s Facebook page, by emailing, or call Hastings District councillors Malcolm Dixon: 0272031011 or Damon Harvey: 0212886772.

14 April 2020

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