360 Tautua

“E leai se gaumata’u na’o le gaualofa –
What we do out of love, will live forever.”

About five years ago Romana Fetu started thinking about what she could do for her recently widowed mother who was showing signs of isolation and loneliness.

Romana is the daughter of a South Auckland Samoan pastor, so service has always been part of her life. Now, she decided, it was her turn:

“When I looked around, there wasn’t much out there for the elderly and when we talked to our friends many of them were in the same boat. All working and all trying to take care of parents – as well as children. So that’s where the conversation started. We all wanted to honour and serve our parents with love – the Pacific way. Elders come with a family. They come with a village. My family is reaping the rewards of what they did for us.

“So we started thinking, how could we provide a wrap-around service for the elderly, especially for our Pasifika elders, because language can be a barrier for them? It makes it even harder for them to go out into the community. And most can’t drive. They also often don’t know of the benefits they can get from places like MSD. So we decided we needed to educate ourselves so we can share the information and knowledge.

“When we asked them what they wanted there was a common theme – companionship. We want to have people to talk with, they said. When they are alone all the time they lose sense of themselves so when you do try and have a conversation with them they find they are not used to talking. We wanted to bring them out of the darkness and loneliness.

“But we also realised that we had language and cultural treasures sitting in our living room. We didn’t want to lose the essence of their stories. You can only get that with interaction, sharing, talanoa, capturing the richness of our history and our language. Many of our
young people were growing up without this. We wanted to facilitate a reciprocal relationship between our elders and youth.

“So at the beginning of last year we developed an intergenerational education programme and we received funding from Foundation North. We had five programmes, just for the elderly, including: providing a safe space for talanoa; door to door transport for essential services; health and wellbeing support information and education; and free activities to strengthen personal wellbeing and social connectedness.

We want to have people to talk with, they said.
The intergenerational programmes include: story telling promoting cultural learning; digital awareness with young people helping our Pacific seniors get online and use a digital device; arts and crafts; song and dance; and companionship-friendly visiting and engagement between both generations through day trips; having a meal together or playing games. It is all about celebrating and honouring our treasured elders.

The Ministry of Education approached us and we were also able to offer Talanoa Ako, a 10-week programme educating our parents about NZCA and education pathways.

“Then Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.

“So rather than running these programmes we were able to re-purpose our funding and provide food parcels and self-care packages for the elderly and most vulnerable in our communities.

“In 2020 basically that’s what we did. We got more funding from Auckland City Council and Civil Defence. We were able to provide food parcels for over 500 people. Kiwi Harvest was wonderful. They supplied us with food every week.

“Seme Lima organises all the operational side. She is amazing.

“Working with us are over 40 volunteers, many of whom lost work during the pandemic. They became our unpaid workforce.

“What we found, of course, was that the elderly now needed help, not only with food, but with ways of keeping in touch with their children, by phone, email, text – or social media pages. So many of them were in need of being digitally educated. They had no idea of
how to get online.

“So we applied for funding that would allow us to help them with purchasing data, as well as the cost of their utility bills so they could stay connected. We did whatever we could to help.

“Then we were fortunate enough to have two months at Alert Level 1 and we were able to run some intergenerational programmes. The young people loved them.

“Some young people had never spent time with their beaches. They loved it. The highlight for us was to see the smiles on their faces. They asked, can we have more? It was an awesome day.

“Then last year we applied for and got funding from the Ministry of Pacific People to run language classes that young people and the elderly can do together. But more lockdowns in Auckland meant that we could not hold many of these.

“It was such a horrible year for everyone, that at the end of it we decided to rally together and run a Masquerade Ball to honour and celebrate our Pasifika elderly and follow our motto which is Tautua ma le alofa – Service through Love. We had amazing support from the whole community.

“During the day, the elderly could come to free pampering sessions. They could get their hair done and a pedicure, manicure and massage for free. The MIT in Otara played a huge part and allowed us to use their hairdressing facilities and the students dolled-up our parents’ hair! It was a rally of people who wanted to serve our elders with love. For every ball ticket we sold, an elder was grandparents. They thought it was a burden. They now appreciate being able to spend time with them, hearing stories about life back home in the islands, playing games of chess or doing arts and crafts. Having that engagement has opened their eyes and built relationships. Now they really appreciate the elderly.

“We have had contact from students at schools, reaching out, asking, when will the next intergenerational programme be held? It’s really cool.

“As well as the intergenerational programmes during Level 1 we were also able to take ten elderly people to Waiheke Island.

“Many of them were very anxious about going. They did not want to leave their houses. But their children said they had to get out, they were so isolated. So we built a relationship with them so they could trust us. They were really brave and they came. Some had never been on a boat before. A bus met us at the ferry and we had a tour of the island – all wearing masks!. We went to galleries and able to come free. We had about 200 people at the ball – a mixture of elders and their families and carers.

“And our elders deserve it. We owe them. If it were not for them we would not be able to do what we are doing now. We are standing on the shoulders of giants who have paved the way for us.”

The first two months of this year has been about going back to our core vision – around the elderly and an intergenerational programme.

“Last year Pale Sauni from Foundation North gave us help with our strategic planning and governance. He was a blessing. But Covid got in the way of finishing that work. Now we are going back to our foundation work before we apply for funding.

“It is not sustainable to do all our work with volunteers. We want to deliver regular intergenerational programmes and have programmes for the elderly. Our dream is to be able to have a pickup and drop-off transport service – so they can come.”