Meet Te Roopu Waiora

Meet te roopu waiora

Considered the only kaupapa Māori organisation where the entire board is made up of whānau hauā, Te Roopu Waiora was established in 2001 to ensure hauā communities, especially Māori, had input around government policies that affect them most. Based in Manukau for 18 years, Te Roopu Waiora has 12 staff. Their unique objective is for the organisation to get smaller, not bigger. Board Chair Dayna Tiwha (Tūwharetoa) and team member Tania Kingi ( Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Whakahemo, Ngai Tai) say their end game is that Te Roopu Waiora no longer exists, because it will no longer be needed.

“Our role is to find out how our community survives in this rohe, and then work with businesses and organisations to improve systems to help our whānau thrive,” says Dayna. “We want to help strengthen our members to use their unique skills and abilities to inform and influence positive change, helping make organisations and spaces more accessible, more responsive. Once that’s achieved, our work is done.”

Working closely with mana whenua advisors, the organisation is looking to put its stamp right across the Tāmaki region. “We’re here to help people understand what manaakitanga looks like from our perspective, consulting on how to improve public, business and social sectors catering to all needs. And who better to do that consultation than those who are most affected?” Te Roopu Wairoa believe what is good for whānau hauā, is good for everyone. If society responds well to those with varying abilities, then everyone will flourish.

Recently the organisation completed an accessibility audit of the Manurewa Town Centre environment. They went through all the public facilities, from the library and train station, to the car parks, bus stops, across the foot pathing and road crossings. The team evaluated each space from different perspectives to ensure they were safe for those with physical, sensory and intellectual impairments. Tania says while we see wheelchair accessibility becoming more commonplace in society, we are still far from meeting the needs of all whānau hauā.

“Our communities have different abilities,” she shares. “For whānau turi and whānau kapo, one has limited use of audio being completely visual, while the other relies on audio with no need for visuals. For whānau waka tūru, some are in manual chairs, others motorised. There are different challenges, skills and solutions, for each.

“Our mahi is to lift performance, evaluate, consult and advise on accessibility, cultural expertise and safety, improving awareness and spaces across the board. This requires a skill base only our community can offer. Our teams of whānau with various impairments train as assessors and we are really clear that our community has an important contribution to make. We come from a sector that considers people with disabilities to be needy and requiring support, or have deformities and be abnormal. But in reality, our people are gifted, have incredible skills and power, and were traditionally valued.”

A leading piece of work Te Roopu Waiora is currently doing is assessing marae that form part of Te Kotahi a Tāmaki. With more than 33 marae in this collective, it is a great opportunity to ignite discussion and create change in this setting. The work is to provide each marae with an assessment of how accessible they are. Then, co-design a plan to work towards improving accessibility, while taking into account the unique tikanga and kawa of each marae. The idea is that all facilities can be improved on the basis of manaakitanga.

Te Roopu Waiora’s membership fluctuates with the seasons and depending on the maramataka, approximately 30 people attend regular hui. They’re very clear that the heart of the organisation is te ao Māori. The group helps reconnect whānau back to their papakainga, particularly those who have been distant, having spent time in various centres and care institutes. They also guide organisations, like the District Health Boards, to ensure their staff are both culturally and disability competent.

“If society doesn’t fully cater to our needs, then almost a quarter of our population are missing out. We have created programmes to run with hospitals and medical centres. We have kaumatua and kuia who join us in wananga to help teach tikanga and kawa in a culturally safe and accessible space. We want these key competencies in every government department.”

With big goals ahead of them, Te Roopu Waiora want to start offering their services to organisations that have greater influence in our public spaces.

“We want to be formally assessing and advising on government agencies, schools, all bus depots, train stations, everywhere the public can use. The benchmark should be all spaces catering to disabilities, because if we can participate, then everyone can. It is so important for our health and wellbeing, and our inclusion in society. You can’t just manaaki some people and not others.”

He Waka Eke Noa have been helping move this dream forward by providing access to business mentors to advise whānau hauā in setting up their own consultancy businesses.

“We want to see our members leading their own futures. That is what Tino Rangatiratanga
looks like. We don’t want to foster a co-dependency relationship, we want to strengthen our people to empower our communities and turn, create a better society for us all.”

To find out more about Te Roopu Waiora, click here.

Story and photos by Qiane Matata-Sipu.


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