Like most of us, the community at Wharekawa Marae in north-east Waikato has had to adapt a lot over the recent pandemic period.  Wharekawa’s Kaiwhakahaere (Administrator), Eddie Manukau, says that the journey has been one of learning, supporting the community and focusing on wellbeing.  “This role is a new working space for me as I studied a Bachelor’s of Education and was previously on that pathway, but Wharekawa is my marae and, when this new position arose due to some heavy Crown investment, it felt like a really big opportunity to do something meaningful.  As Kaiwhakahaere, I am now tasked with milestones related to the Building Resilient and Sustainable Communities project.  This includes a body of work to increase the wellbeing of members of our marae and the local community.”

Eddie embraced the opportunity to gain the skills to best tackle his new role and, during this process, he reached out to existing contacts who connected him with Hui E! Community Aotearoa.  “I came across Hui E! through networks that I’ve been involved in for the last few years, namely an organisation called Te Kotahi A Tamaki which is a collective of marae in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).  Through their networks, I was given an opportunity to upskill myself through a grant writing programme that Hui E! were offering.”  Of course, COVID had other plans, and Eddie quickly found himself in more of an emergency response role than an administrator role, which pushed immediate fundraising needs to the side.

When he came on board as Kaiwhakahaere, Eddie had planned to split his time between his home in Tāmaki Makaurau and the marae in Kaiaua but, in the midst of a new Delta-wave lockdown in August of 2021, Eddie was faced with a choice: get locked down at home in Auckland and try to support Wharekawa remotely, or leave his own whānau (family) at home in Auckland and work through the lockdown more-or-less alone in Kaiaua.  He chose the latter.

With the changing pandemic landscape came an increased priority on health and wellbeing, Eddie says, and he was excited to participate remotely in Hui E!’s 4-week Tumu Ora wellbeing programme during that lockdown period.  “The programme came along when I was isolated from my whānau and living alone.  It was really appealing as a way to keep a tab on my own personal wellbeing, which was getting pretty challenging at points.  Tumu Ora helped me to stay connected and focused; it was a good forum to meet others in similar roles who, maybe, also saw their mental health coming to the fore because of the pandemic.  The facilitator was really good at focusing on those personal elements and making the content accessible.”

As part of the Hui E! network and with the ongoing support of Te Kotahi A Tamaki, Eddie says he’s been able to continue gaining skills and connections relevant to his role.  “The networks of support that we were able to access through Te Kotahi A Tamaki, including both Hui E! and ANCAD (Auckland North Community and Development), have been very diverse and not necessarily Māori-centric, so I have since had opportunities to get critical training on a wide range of skills including fundraising and succession.  What I like particularly about Hui E!’s involvement is the ability to enter a room with skills at multiple levels; you don’t have to be an experienced person to access those networks and participate.  You can come in absolutely green – which is how I felt when I arrived – and tap straight in.”

Wharekawa is currently closed while undergoing physical infrastructure developments which, Eddie hopes, will inspire the community to engage with some of their social, cultural, economic and opportunities as well.  “Moving forward, our relationship with Hui E! will be really beneficial for any Wharekawa marae whānau member who is interested in tapping into those social networks without the fear or anxiety of not being good enough to participate.”