Te Aroha | Raumanga, Northland

“During Covid-19, we were on Level 4, I quite loved it. It’s sad it had to happen, but I really liked it, because it was quiet, the air was cleaner, and I could get to work pretty easy, I’m so happy that our whānau had been put in places to keep warm, and they were allowed to come down and have their meals here, and I was really happy that the majority of them had a roof over their heads, during that time, and I’m crossing my fingers that they’d be in those same accommodation for quite some time. 

I really enjoyed working with Open Arms, before it had opened, I used to work at a funeral parlour, just being a cleaner and a gardener, and then I found out about the centre being open to feed not only the homeless, but the hungry, and I love that. I’ve never experienced that as I was growing up. It’s never been in the situation, whereas it is now. So I came down voluntarily, and I loved it, doing up the clothing room, and all the donations people and businesses had given and handed over to Open Arms. I loved the job. I have my ups and down with the whānau, but we get over it. I had been away from New Zealand for 15 years. Lived in Brisbane, and when I came back to look after my sister, she was very ill. I’ve been back here five years now, and she’s passed on. I couldn’t believe it, how the situation with so many homeless people all over New Zealand, and I wanted to do something, and now I’m happy I’m here, and I’m doing something, a little bit of help. I’ve learned that a lot of them have medical issues and it makes me wonder what made them go that way? Obviously I’ve made a lot of friends with the whānau, and a lot of enemies, but we ended up being friends. I like seeing them enjoying the food we give them, and if I haven’t got the time to help them out, I’ll be busy cooking, and they make a lot of demands, so I just send them to the reception desk and I’ll carry on with my work, and it’s a big, experience for me and it’s sad to see a lot of them that I’ve known for a long time, and I sit back and I go, now what’s happened to you, where did you fall off? But, to me, I don’t question them, because there’s a lot of personal things, you know? I just carry on, and what little help I can give towards them, so be it. 

Apart from me enjoying the quietness, during lockdown I learned that in the near future we need to step up, and teach ourselves and everybody else about hygiene and safety. This is where a big downfall has come across the board. There’s a lot to it, but this Covid-19, that was a big fright especially when people were getting sick. I was so happy that our whānau were in homes and units, accommodation and they had the facilities there. We have the facilities here, but they’ve got them there and they’re not out on the road catching the virus. And they were safe and warm. 

I value my culture. My te reo. My children. My mokopuna and my great-mokopuna. I’ll always value that in life.

For myself, I’m still wearing a mask when I go shopping, and that was a big experience, knuckling down to your own health and safety was really needed. Luckily we have had our shops still open, if the grocery shops weren’t open, I think everybody would have felt it. Not only myself, but everybody would have felt it, that we were really locked down, and not going out to do our shopping. I was alright, because I’m used to working three days a week, and then having four days off, and I do my own housework and everything else. So, it was quite alright. I said to my partner, I can live like this, because I still go to work three days a week during lockdown, and I’ll still have four days off, and on my four days I don’t go travelling. 

I was born in Whangārei Hospital. We lived out in the country, out at Pipiwai. We were brought up there. We were taught by my parents how to be self-sufficient. Then we moved to Whangārei, went to Ōtangarei Primary, Kamo Intermediate, Whangārei Girls’ High School, and when I was at Whangārei Girls’ High School all my sisters used to be house-maid waitresses in waitressing. So, I used to work at the Hotel Windsor, as a kitchen-hand with my mum. On the weekends, I worked as a house-maid waitress. As I got older, I moved to Auckland, and worked in a big Alex Harvey company, and then years later, got married, had all my children, and then I decided to go with my two youngest ones to Australia. I did a course at Polytech, hospitality, and did my chef’s course. I did my 751, 752 and 753. I used to work at the Grand Hotel, I started off as a cook, and then I ended up having to go and get my qualifications. I did that, then I moved to Australia. I didn’t like the hospitality there, so I ended up working in a factory, Golden Circle, and then I moved onto working on construction sites as a cleaner. They call them Peggies. I loved it. Then I came back home. I didn’t like it back here. I wanted to go back, but if I didn’t pick up this job with 155 Open Arms I think I would have been back in Brisbane.”

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