Leah Porirua Whanau centre

Most people are in crisis when they turn up at the door of the Porirua Whānau Centre Trust in Canons Creek. They are usually struggling with financial, social, emotional and family harm problems. Homelessness has also been an increasing problem.

The Whānau Centre is a community hub providing services for pre-schoolers to the elderly. It is one of six MSD-funded social service centres in the country.

Last year their social workers provided services to nearly 800 people, mostly Māori and Pasifika. The centre also offers counselling services, a HIPPY programme, a school holiday programme, ECE, family violence prevention (including a White Ribbon Day dads and daughter’s breakfast), Matua Power (activities for the elderly helping them stay connected to the community), a youth programme in schools (a stopping bullying programme Kowaiau – Who am I), a community event (Creekfest, which is a health focused festival, with stalls from many agencies and organisations that can provide support), and free training programmes - financial literacy and parenting. The trust now has 15 social houses, 3 of which are available for short term emergency and transitional accommodation while efforts are made to find more permanent homes.

In practice all of the services provide non-formal or informal learning: everyone gets a chance to make changes that improve the health and wellbeing of their whānau. For this article we focused on the non-formal training courses, so we talked with Barrie Walker (Ngāti Kahu), the tutor for both the parenting and financial literacy programmes, and Leah Olsen (Tuhoe), a graduate of the parenting programme.

Training programmes

The centre’s budgeting programmes have recently been replaced by the Commission for Financial Capability’s community programmes. The first six session programme has just finished and whanau are reporting positive outcomes. They say that the skills they have learned are helping them to monitor their income, plan for the future and re-evaluate priorities. The introduction of habits such as making a daily log of all their spending has resulted in some being shocked at where their money actually goes. The programme is also increasing their capacity to develop savings plans, understand insurance and access appropriate supports if required.

The parenting programmes run for two hours a week for seven weeks. They are during the day and fit in with the school term. Four programmes are run over the year. “It’s generally the mothers that come along,” says Barrie. “We cover a lot of different topics but their shared stories, the korero is really important because they then start helping each other. I see a lot of awareness growing about how their behaviour affects their children.”

Leah agrees. “Before I did the course seven or eight years ago when I was a young mum I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about. Before I wasn’t thinking about what I said to the children, or about how I dealt with situations…

“For the last few years we have lived back in Murupara. We went back so I could learn te reo and get to know my whānau there. Then when we came back to Porirua at the beginning of this year (so my children could learn about their father’s Cook Island side) and found ourselves without jobs and homeless, I knew we had to reach out and get some help. My partner and I thought we were good parents. He is like a typical man, and thinks he knows everything! But we both enrolled on the parenting course. I felt I needed it again too. When you are under stress you don’t sit and think about what you are saying to each other or to the children. We have learnt to be more responsive to our children’s needs and to always be aware how our actions and communication style has a direct impact on them. Recently my daughter said to me, Mum, Dad’s happy again! And I said, Yes, that was because I have had a talk with him! Now we reflect on how we are doing things. I feel that I am always aware of what I am doing, and I remember what I have learned.

“Now things are working out for us. I am a much more proactive person. I get involved. Because my son was having some difficulties at school, I approached his teacher and asked if I could be his teacher aid. So I go along once a week and do reading with him or go through his basic maths. I am always popping into the medical centre here and asking things about my children’s health that I am worried about. And I didn’t used to vote. I could see no point in it, but now I will definitely be voting because a lot of things in the country are not going the right way.

“As a result of being on the programme, I have a job! I am a HIPPY tutor. I have twelve mums and my job is to go to visit them and teach them how to use the activity book. I love it. I want to get into early childhood education, but at the moment I know I can’t commit to doing the course. One day I will get there!

Liz Kelly (Ngāti Toa) is the CEO of the Porirua Whānau Centre. She has always worked on the principle of a hand up, not a hand out and encourages everyone who gets support from the centre to become nurturing participants in their local community. Having learners like Leah moving on to help deliver services to others contributes to that vision of the trust, ‘to improve the ability of whānau to be self-reliant.’