Coming together for the greater good

From the moment Covid-19 plunged us all into lockdown, iwi, hapu and whānau from Invercargill to Te Tai Tokerau, and their counterparts in our refugee and migrant communities rolled up their sleeves and began working together to ensure kaumātua and tamariki, neighbours, friends, and sometimes complete strangers, were cushioned from the immediate effects of isolation.

Everybody helped out

Zoom meetings became “Zui’s as whānau came together online to organise deliveries of kai, sanitary packs and rongoā. In rural areas, representatives from far flung marae held daily at first, then weekly, zoom meetings to ensure everyone, especially the lonely and vulnerable, were safe and to share ideas for entertaining and educating homebound tamariki.  Rangatahi stepped up to chop and deliver wood to kaumātua, marae made land available for whānau to plant gardens and fruit trees and in some rohe, land trusts and local farmers donated meat for local distribution. Online morning karakia and waiata sessions became popular ways to practice whānaungatanga.  Anecdotally, whānau and social workers began to notice a decrease in drug and alcohol use and an increase in harmony in some normally fractious households.


In cities as well, manaakitanga was immediately extended to anyone who needed it. In the Hutt Valley, for example, Kōkiri Marae’s food bank delivered kai to pākeha, Pacific and refugee and migrant families as well as to its own Maori whānau. In the first week of lockdown, requests for help from this foodbank alone multiplied three-fold, a story common to foodbanks throughout the country. Further up the Valley in Upper Hutt, the Sikh community contributed to Orongomai Marae’s well established but now greatly expanded welfare programme by providing delicious vegetarian meals for anyone who wanted them.

An army of volunteers from ethnic communities are providing pastoral care and sharing necessary information in their own languages for families, workers and overseas students stranded by Covid-19.  Young people are providing backroom support, including IT expertise. In Canterbury, a group of former refugees are working with local doctors and pharmacies to deliver scripts and medication to people who can’t get out to pick them up.

Resources pooled

Different ethnic communities are pooling resources. In Auckland, for example, E Tū Whānau kaimahi join representatives from the legal advocacy group, Project Salam, the NZ Ethnic Women’s Trust, the Aotearoa Latin American Community Trust, and Auckland DHB for regular phone conferences to identify any needs and emerging issues within different communities and to make sure they’re addressed.

In another part of the country, Afghani and Somali community workers are fielding phone calls from taxi drivers who are no longer able to work and are stressed about their financial situation. They are being referred to MSD support channels. A Somali counsellor is providing on-line support to young people.

Trusted relationships

When Covid-19 struck, the well-established relationships of trust that E Tū Whānau kaimahi have built with iwi, hapū and whānau as well as with members of refugee and migrant communities over many years proved invaluable.  These relationships allowed the kaimahi to work directly with some of the most marginalised communities to ensure that as many people as possible received clear and timely messaging around COVID-19 alert level expectations and direction on how to access help and support from Work and Income and other essential services. Vitally important Covid-19 health messages were swiftly translated into 17 languages, including te reo Māori, and targeted information was disseminated to ethnic media.

Getting funding to the people who need it

Our decade old E Tū Whānau Grant fund prioritised the needs of vulnerable whānau. In addition, a separate COVID-19 grant fund was established. In the first month, over one million dollars was distributed to more than 60 grassroots organisations. All examples cited in this story come from groups that have benefited directly from these funds.

In Flaxmere, Hikoi Koutou, a community trust focussing on mental and physical wellbeing, delivered kai packs to 869 whānau in 114 household, 30% of which had housed three to four generations and 60% of which had gang connections.  These deliveries doubled as opportunities to note any concerns or challenges within the homes and offer support if appropriate.

Hikoi Koutou Kaiwhakahaere, Les Hokianga, credits trusted relationships with whānau and direct resourcing from the E Tū Whānau COVID-19 grant fund for their success in meeting the immediate needs of whānau.

“In this short time (two weeks from receiving funding), we have saved two whānau from that feeling of wanting to end it all, from suicide.”

“We have given whānau tools to build their resilience and hope for the future so that they can contribute to a better, healthier society once we get through this.  We have become their beacon of light in the dark at present.”

“The marae have been amazing”

Orongamai Marae which, like many others around the country provides much more than kai, has shared this note of appreciation from the matriarch of a family of seven people. It’s indicative of the kind of comments we are receiving from all over Aotearoa.

“Seriously, the marae have been amazing through this time, as a family we have gotten, food parcels, top up for my phone, a care package, counselling and daily contact through phone calls and texting.  Thank you so much for being there in trying times for my family, and not giving up on the families that you take care of.”

Heartfelt gratitude

Another comment from a solo Dad highlights the pastoral care given unstintingly by so many around the country.

“Through this pandemic, I became homeless.  One phone call, and they (marae whānau) were there. They got me into an emergency house while we were in lockdown.  I was getting daily calls to see if my boys and I were ok… I was stressed just like other families are during this time, but having a support system put in place so you didn’t get left behind, making sure that I, not just my boys, had someone besides my family having my back.”

“We are so grateful for all the help that we have received from the marae, and continue to receive, I am not slouched over with my head down.  I have my head up knowing I have support, holding me, making sure my boys and I are ok.”