By Janet Akai, Manager Business Improvement, Cook Islands Development Agency New Zealand (CIDANZ)

“E lamepa taau tuatua no toku nei vaevae ei turama no toku nei arataa” – “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my direction” (Psalms 119).

At 77 years old, there’s no sign of slowing down for Nana Kamo-Mataroa, lovingly known as ‘Auntie Nana’. Hailing from Rarotonga, Cook Islands, Nana holds many hats in the Mangere community including volunteering as a JP at the Mangere Citizens Advice Bureau, being the community’s voice every Monday on Radio 531pi, and sitting on the Health and Safety Committee for the Cook Islands Presbyterian Church, where she is also a Deacon. Her most significant achievement includes leading a life of servitude to her community and people. She does this in her role as an Ambassador for the Cook Islands Development Agency NZ (CIDANZ), being one of the founders and member of the Cook Islands Takotai’anga Vainetini Collective NZ (CITVNZ), and founding the Pa Metua Super Gold Club.

Before the formation of the Pa Metua (elders) Super Gold Club, Nana often paid home visits to Mamas and Papas she would meet at church or in the community. “Sometimes they don’t have someone to take them to the shop, and they need someone to because most of them can’t walk far or for too long. So, when I go to visit, I take with me one bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, and some fruit. But most of the time they just want someone to talk to.” The Pa Metua Super Gold Club, supported by CIDANZ, was created to bring together the elders that Nana visited, and elders who wanted to do something different on their Tuesday’s.

The Club was officially launched on October 2, 2018 with twelve new members pledging three things: to share and preserve their cultural knowledge for future generations; to document in a journal their insights and experiences; and to guide and nurture new and existing leadership in the community.

“This club is for our 65+ year olds because like Auntie Nana, we value our elders and their place in our communities. We wanted to create a space where they were able to come and be among others, to share their cultural knowledge, experiences, insights, and mostly just to connect with those who understand them. During the time since the group’s formation, we’ve learned that most of them are at home alone. Their children have either moved on to raise their own families, or their partner has passed away.

For some it’s a very lonely time in their lives,” says Rouruina Emil’e-Brown, CE of CIDANZ. “There are treasures within their lives that we want to learn from and to preserve, like our language and the 13 different dialects we have in our small nation alone. Most of these dialects have been taught through songs, dances and legends. Through the simple act of transcribing their thoughts in their dialect in a journal, they’re taking a step towards preserving those dialects.”

When they’re not sharing from their journals or singing traditional hymns, they’re taking part in workshops with positive social enterprise outcomes. One of those workshops was upcycling pillowcases donated by the University of Auckland’s Student Accommodation team. The members were able to screen print traditional Cook Islands motifs onto pillow cases that were then packaged and sold in the Kia Orana cooperative community store. The store is stocked by locals and because of this, the store’s policy is to ensure that profits go back into the community. In this case, profits went back to the club where they were used to support the groups next outing – a trip to the pictures.

In all the years that club members had lived in New Zealand, 70 percent of them had never been to the cinema before: “I remember taking my children to the Civic in the city to watch the Sound of Music when it first screened. That was a long time ago! They didn’t have the fancy seats like they do now, and ice cream inside the movies wasn’t done. The other Mamas had never been to the pictures and at first, they were worried about it, but were then amazed at how easy it was to get from the carpark, up the stairs to the picture room where they were served their popcorn, ice cream, and drink. Then after the movie we were picked up, taken back to CIDANZ where we had fish and chips for lunch,” says Nana.

Mama Kura Rasmussen also recalls having a wonderful time: “It was my first time going to the movies! It made me feel young again, like I was going on a school trip with my friends.” Mama Rasmussen also comments: “I look forward to my Tuesday’s. I like coming to the shed, to sing and be around others.”

Nana’s work also extends to the Cook Islands Taokotai’anga Vainetini Collective NZ (CITVNZ) which has seen the small group grow from four members, to 56+. A vainetini is a group of skilled women who come together to share their creative skills in making traditional Cook Islands crafts. Aged between 40-80+ years, they spend their time working on crafts such as quilts, cushion covers, pillowcase covers, flower crowns, woven hats and many more.

“The group has gained a lot of attention from the media for the work that we have done with the Takanini Sikh community, and most recently our work to become a craft supplier for the Wellington Te Papa Museum. Like the Pa Metua Club, the vainetini first started in the one COMMUNITY S.H.E.D with myself, and three other Mamas. There are many vainetini groups across New Zealand who do the same thing, but none as big as ours or more focused on social enterprise. We enjoy what we do but being able to provide for our families through what we enjoy doing is a big achievement for our collective.”

Both the Pa Metua Club and CITVNZ’s aim is to bring together our community to be part of something that not only makes a difference to its current members and wider community, but also recognizes that what they share, learn and preserve will have lasting effects on our future generations.

With all the good that she is currently doing for our people, Nana parts with one cheeky comment, “I need to do a lot more work.”