Francis Kewene is a Māori Caucus representative on PHA's Executive Council.
As a former Māori health promoter, a Health Protection Officer, and now a Hauora Māori Professional Practice fellow in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, I felt a responsibility and obligation to volunteer to help with contact tracing for coronavirus.
Over a week ago I received an email inviting me to a training session at our local Public Health Unit. The tension as I arrived in the building was palpable. I arrived in a large board room already filled with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Everyone was sitting side by side, less than a metre from each other, which under the circumstances surprised me, and on one wall there was a screen filled with people in a number of different sites on Zoom.
The person leading the session launched straight into how we would conduct the contact tracing, the survey we needed to run through, and the resources we would need to support this work. I could feel the tension rising in my body. I could feel my brain spin as I felt a silent scream build: “Where is the whakawhanaungatanga? Where is the humanity of introductions? This is not my normal. This is not my normal!”
Then I could no longer hold the scream when I was told we would need to apologise before we asked the ethnicity question in the survey as “this question often makes people uncomfortable”. I was shocked. Enough apologising.
“Enough!” I raised my voice in a room of people who did not know me and whom I did not know.
“And by the way, if we are going to be working together, if we are to support one another, let’s connect first. We should have had a moment at the start of this sessions to introduce ourselves to one another.”
Silence. The training recommenced.
Each and everyone of us is doing our bit during these challenging times. Everyone is doing their best, but we know that doing our best must not be to the exclusion of Māori and our Māori normal. Our normal has changed, but we can still stay connected, we can still support, and find strength through our whakapapa.
My name is Francis Kewene, I am a small piece of paua in the eye socket of my tupuna carved on the wall of our wharenui. I am a mama, a sister, a cousin, and aunt. I am a worker, I am part of a team, I am part of a community trying to do what we can.
We as members of the Public Health Association choose to be here because we believe in the power of the collective. I reach out to you all, and ask members, particularly the Māori members of the PHA to raise our collective voice. Share what is happening in your communities with one another through this pānui. Through our email links we can support each other with our skills, expertise and aroha.
Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā National Māori Pandemic Group
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