Ngakeu Apaapa (Ngati Ranginui) has been working with her Kaiārahi, Michelle Horne from Piriakau Haoura for a year and during that time she has completely transformed her life for the better.
In 2021 during the second wave of COVID variants and lockdowns Ngakeu had the additional stress of living with her three children in unhealthy conditions with no electricity or running water, she was unemployed and a solo mum.
Ngakeu grew up in Piriakau with four older sisters, a younger brother and both of her parents.
“I had a good childhood, a really good childhood. We had solid parents but then I fell off the rails once mum passed away from cancer. It was pretty hard as mum was our backbone and I just starting spiraling downwards. We were all trying to be there for dad to support him too and then all of a sudden, I was a solo mum to my three children”.
Her eldest is 11 and the youngest is five-years-old.
“I’m really whānau-oriented. One day I was really needing help and some guidelines because I was struggling mentally, emotionally and physically. I had heard about Whānau Ora through word-of-mouth. I needed someone to guide me in the right direction, show me what to do and tell me everything was going to be okay. I’m not much of an academic girl, physically I can do it all, but reading and writing I struggle. So meeting Michelle Horne was incredible because she has really helped me a lot.”.
Despite Ngakeu immediately liking Michelle when they met, she kept her walls up.
“It was different for me because I had never been in that situation. I was very whakama but the more we talked, the more confident I became. Getting to know her a bit more and building a relationship, really getting to know each other helped. Once I felt like I was in a good space with her, then I could open up. Even though this took a bit of time, Michelle stuck with me, she was right there and then I started to set some goals and we were off”.
Kaiārahi Michelle sat down with Ngakeu and together they mapped out a plan.
“My focus in that first meeting was me, I needed to build myself up before I could move to the next step which was to get a warm whare. I was living in a cabin on our land which had no facilities, no toilet, no bathroom, no kitchen, it was just an empty room. It wasn’t a home at all and we had been living this way for six years”.
Michelle couldn’t believe the conditions they had become accustomed too.
“Ngakeu had like two, one-bedroom cabins for her and her tamariki. They were in a bad state, they weren’t insulated, they had mould running through from the floor up the walls to the ceiling and very thin curtains. There was nothing healthy about these cabins, they weren’t self-contained”.
Ngakeu had to keep trekking back and forth to her father’s cottage to use the amenities, he was unwell himself and during bad, cold weather it became an overcrowded situation. Michelle identified they were high risk whānau.
“His health needed some serious attention and care. He was living well below the hygienic standards of living also so we started with the healthy homes initiative for repairs and getting a heat pump installed. Then we started to work for Ngakeu and her tamariki because the living conditions were affecting their ability to attend school with recurring illnesses and overall wellbeing because they were being deprived of the basics. Being able to go to the toilet in their own whare, cook some toast for a kai, none of that was possible in their cabins and that needed to change”.
Both Ngakeu and her father really wanted some independence, to have the ability to look after themselves and have what every health home has, the basics in a dry, warm and safe environment.
“We pursued that goal to go through House Me to get her a two-bedroom cabin with a kitchen, shower, toilet – the basics so that it would be self-contained. To do that we also had to go through to the council to get the layout of their whenua to find where the electrical cables and that were laid, because the cabin needed 60-watt power amps so they could run off their own power. Her brother was in another cabin on the property as well so didn’t have enough electricity to source”.
Michelle worked with Healthy Homes writing support leaders to the Ministry of Social Development to get financial assistance for the electrical cables to be installed and activated.
“We went through the right channels to make sure they were living and sleeping in a safe environment and not having to run extra extensions chords all over the place. MSD were a bit of work, that took about five weeks to just get an answer, even after I took the time to write the letters clearly outlining why Ngakeu and her family needed this”.
Momentum really started once electricity was flowing into the cabins.
“Now they are self-sufficient in their own homes, the kids are thriving and confidence is building and so is their mana for themselves and one another. It was such a great feeling to see it all come together for them”.
In the past Ngakeu has only ever dealt with Work & Income, she never realized Whānau Ora not only existed, but they came without fanfare or fine print. Plus, they worked with her to get the results she needed. The whole process to transform the cabins took approximately eight months and Ngakeu is appreciative, happy and focused.
“I’m not finished yet. I have more goals and the next one is to get myself a car My whare is beautiful. I am very, very lucky. My babies are happier, they are settled, life is really good at the moment”.
The difference between who Ngakeu was then and the person she is today is hard for her to describe. And understandably, emotional.
“I have come a long way from where I was. My three kids are comfortable, I have fulltime mahi, we have a warm whare and that is all in the space of a year. Happy mum happy life you know. I did not expect this when I first met Michelle, it was just persistence and time because really good things do take time. Trust me it was hard, there were times I just wanted to give up, I had enough. But I had a goal and I was determined to get there and I did. We did”.
Michelle is proud of Ngakeu.
“She’s gone from Mauri moe to Mauri ora, Mauri tau. Ngakeau has really excelled throughout that whole process and it is such a good outcome to see and her kids aspire. She is a great role model to her tamariki showing them how to get ahead in life. It has been a learning journey and a real privilege to awhi our whānau and see them living in a better standard of living, especially our single mama and her kids. It is fulfilling, you feel like you are serving your people, you are giving back with good outcomes”.
Post COVID the struggle is real for a lot of whānau around the country and Ngakeu wants everyone to know there is a way out.
“There is a system that works for you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are hurdles, but you’ll get there. Find that person who will support you and be really honest, even if it’s ugly, don’t hold anything back because that’s where it starts. The right person will take the good and the bad no matter what you tell them, give it your all and you will get your goal at the end of it”.