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Fonua Ola

Fonua Ola is an Auckland social service organisation for Pacific by Pacific funded by the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Oranga Tamariki, and Pasifika Futures. They provide free social work services, youth work services, counselling support, family violence prevention, parenting and whānau ora programmes – and a newly designed MSD building financial capability (BFC) programme, Money Mates, which offers one to one mentoring, an 8-week training course and peer-support for people experiencing financial hardship.

Brenda Simmons is the Financial Mentoring and Whānau Ora Team Leader and is responsible for the BFC programme which is offered in both South and Central Auckland:

“It has evolved from our earlier budgeting programme,” she says, “to provide a strengths-based approach. It’s mostly the mums who come to us first, and the dads come along later. When our mentors start working with families we look for the strengths that they might have. It might be that they know they have a strong extended family that can support them, or that they have a solid community of people who can converse in their own language. If they have come to us from some of our other services they may have a family plan of action in place so our mentors can work with them to develop their financial plan of action as well. Then the families can set goals for themselves about what they want to do with their finances.

“We have three mentors in the two communities where we are offering the service. They work one-to-one with the families until they are ready to go into our Money Mates programme which helps them embed what they have learned.

“It is a very interactive programme that covers everything from debt costs, credit contracts, SMART goals, spending diaries, how credit rating is affected by default, distinguishing between their ‘wants’ and their ‘needs’ – to their rights, savings, tax rebates and resources they can access in the future.

“We work so that the families support each other to achieve their goals. It works well for Pacific people who have English as a second language and who enjoy working in a group. They are able to share stories and find solutions themselves.

“Most are referred to the programme through our own social services, CABs, housing providers or government departments. They may need crisis management support to begin with – if they are facing eviction or have serious debt problems – but the group sessions help them to get a better understanding of the financial environment in New Zealand. If they grew up in the Pacific they have never learned about these things. Often they have never been discussed before.

“We are also running the programme in some workplaces. Employers get in touch with us when they realise their staff are having financial problems and we then go along and run programmes on their premises. Currently, we also run a programme at a Work and Income office.

“Recently we have noticed more grandparents and retired people coming in. They often are having problems with high rents and need to find solutions. We are also getting young unmarried people coming too. Our approach is not only to provide the information and skills that they need, but to destigmatise financial hardship.”

Manase Daniels has attended the Money Mates programme: “For me, the biggest changes have been only buying what I need, not what I want, and saving. And I talk with a Cook Island friend of mine, Isabell Tiarua, who did the course with me, and we talk about managing our money, how we are getting on, and what is happening to you. Also, I talk with my daughter about what we have learned. Things are still good.”

Rakanui Tangi who is the course facilitator and a mentor says that while many of the families are ongoing clients of Fonua Ola, none have ever had to come back on the Money Mates programme: “They are more skilled and more confident. And we encourage them to keep on supporting each other.”

Fiu Anae Wesley Tala’imanu is the Executive Director of Fonua Ola. He says that the vision of the organisation is to journey with Pacific families on their voyage to sustainable futures:

“The Money Mates programme is still being trialled. At the moment the outcomes that we see are short-term ones, like having families really work on their ‘needs’ and their ‘wants’ or getting their power bill down. But our goal is for long-term change including employment and education so that our families not only know how to manage money but they also have the money they need to live.”

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Spring Newsletter 2018.