Never has strong leadership within our communities been more evident than during the devastating weather events of early 2023, and no region has been more impacted than Tairāwhiti.

Cyclone Gabrielle tested the resilience of the wider Tairāwhiti community with Tairāwhiti REAP having to pivot their focus to the recovery space and shoring up strong connections to help with preparedness for future events.

Tairāwhiti REAP’s ACE kaingākau programme has a focus on reconnecting, learning, sharing culture and sharing kai: all the things that connect us. Kaingākau is a play on two words – ‘kainga’ meaning home and ‘ngākau’ meaning heart – Home is where the heart is. Kaingākau also means "to take pleasure in, or to cherish" – an apt description of the concept for the programme post COVID and Cyclone Gabrielle.

Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, Executive Director of Tairawhiti REAP, says that with many communities completely isolated during COVID lockdown, followed by the severed roading network following the cyclone, whānau needed opportunities to come together, largely via Zoom, and share skills that helped communities and individuals not just survive, but thrive.

“Social cohesion has been so important after Cyclone Gabrielle and our Kaingākau classes are helping to bring people back together – learning, laughing, sharing rongoā and kai infused with rongoā. The lessons also help to build resilience for future preparedness.”

The five-week “Rongoā for Whānau Hauora” course was designed to share knowledge and understanding about the availability of rongoā Māori (traditional Māori medicines) and to enable whānau to make traditional teas, balms and tinctures from the land around them. Ani says attendees can now make their own form of Vicks using plants from the bush, saving money and ensuring access to common products more usually found on supermarket or chemist shelves several hours away.

With the roads reopened and access restored, the final session was held kanohi ki te kanohi allowing ākonga from Potaka to Manutūkē to finally come together.

“We do not have the ability to control the weather and other external factors but we can control the way we look after ourselves and care for each other. Lessons based around driving a greater level of self-sufficiency have been incredibly valued in the community.”

A further component of the Kaingākau programme, Korean Kai, came about following a distribution of pork mince from the local Super Grans organisation, post cyclone. With a talented Korean cook in the community, it made sense to share the secrets of the perfect pork dumpling and other Korean cuisine that can be added to home and marae menus.

“Korean Kai epitomised the essence and concepts of kaingākau – bringing people together to learn, to laugh, to share kai together and to have valuable skills to take home, to see them through any situation.”