There was a special gathering in Tokoroa this weekend, a gathering of old friends, a gathering of whanau who came together to support their friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was my niece who told me about this gathering, which drew people from as far as Wellington, Te Araroa, and all over the country. They came to be there for their old friend Alice Cooper from Pikitu marae, to support her in whatever way they could, and to just catch up, laugh, and reunite.
As my niece told me about her weekend adventure, I thought about how wonderful it is to have people in your life, who despite everything, will be there for you when you need them.
Not only did these girls come together to see their friend, they learnt about the illness and how they could do their bit to help. They heard about the challenges that she faced in getting a proper diagnoses. As a young girl of 32, to even get referred to a specialist was difficult. They caught up on what was happening in each others lives and brainstormed solutions to various issues, which I understand included sharing parenting advice; figuring out ways that they could contribute to various renovation projects; brainstorming business ideas, and ideas for teaching resources for their children; celebrating new additions to whanau; and of course just being there as emotional support to lift one and others spirits.
My niece described it as ‘a reality check, with lots of love and laughs’.
To me, this is an example of how we can all come together to lift the burden, share the load and work together for the benefit of your wider whanau and community. It is Whanau Ora in practice.
Whanau Ora is not just a policy or a programme delivered through government, it is something that is living and working already within our homes. It is something that we do in our day to day lives, and that comes naturally to those who are used to working in communal or collaborative ways.
In small towns especially, where the community relationships are strong, you see these practises alive and well. You can see it every day on a marae, or around our schools and gathering places – people coming together to support one another. It is a wonderful thing, and it is something that should be shared with all families in Aotearoa.
Sometimes I wonder how I would have survived all this time without the support of my whanau and closest friends. I am not sure I would be the same person I am today. It is a gift, and it is precious to have these memories and experiences, and I am always grateful that I have people to lean on when I need them the most.
Whanau Ora has taken a bit of a hammering over the last few months by other politicians who do not understand the value of relationships. So it is time that we start to highlight the positives in our ways of doing and working as collectives, and how that can have a meaningful impact on the lives of our whanau.
I encourage all of us to think about the ways that our whanau and friends have supported us over the many years past, and to take that value of manaakitanga and share it with others, pass it on to our children and practice it in our day to day lives. I truly believe it is something that can change our world if we remember that around us is all the strength we need.
As for my niece and her friends, they have made a commitment to supporting their friend Alice through this difficult time, and they will always be there for her tamariki to call on. My thoughts go out to Alice and the Cooper whanau, and indeed to the many women who have been hit by this terrible illness.