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Paddling to wellbeing - Northland DHB

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Pioneering waka ama club, Ngā Hoe Horo o Pawarenga, has partnered with Northland DHB to establish a recovery programme for mental health and addiction clients in the North.

The programme, Waka Oranga, was launched in late October to provide whānau with indigenous pathways to healing and hauora and Kaitaia Hospital operations manager and community mental health service manager, Neta Smith says it is time to start doing things differently.

"Waka ama certainly has turned lives around. It's the fastest growing sport in New Zealand and covers all age groups from children through to Kaumātua with a very high proportion of Māori uptake. It's not just about the paddling; it's the whole kaupapa that sits alongside it. The sense of belonging, culture, identity, physical wellbeing and recovery are only a few of the benefits. It's a vehicle to enable recovery from a different perspective for our Mental Health and Addiction clients, and we will be able to utilise it with our Adult, Child and Youth Services."

Northland DHB has purchased a waka and trailer which will be stored and cared for at the club and their member will offer paddling expertise and support to the Community Mental Health and Addiction's staff and clients when they take the waka out as a therapeutic means of recovery.

Northland DHB alcohol and drug councillor, Teina Piripi said the club develop, support and teach over 100 tamariki annually to engage in productive, healthy and connective experiences. They also helped to establish the Women's refuge in Kaitaia as a result of out of their strict rules against, drinking, smoking and violence.

"It's a naturally occurring grassroots movement, and what we're doing is collaborating and partnering with them. I think it is an example of the treaty relationships that we're trying to engage with at Northland DHB.

"The skills you learn in the waka, are skills for life - problem-solving, health and fitness, nutrition, conflict resolution and whanaungatanga - in terms of your roles, responsibilities and obligations to one and another in the waka, and off the water."

Teina said a common issue for recovering addicts is their lack of connection, and the programme's kaupapa Māori approach will help support them to re-establish vital links with their people, stories, experiences and homes. All lessons will be tied back to te ao Māori and learning te reo Māori will be part of the path, with every instruction starting with a karakia.

"They will learn waiata and mihi, so when we go on marae, they will be skilled to enter that world and be functional. We will hold wananga on their own marae, and we will take the waka to paddle in their water."

"Once they start paddling to a different rhythm in life, the addiction will drop off. In te ao Māori, timing is everything. There's a fluidity, and we will address addiction when they are ready. Each person has their way, feeling and systems - they might be a little out of sync, but we will tune them back into it."

Not all programme attendees are expected to take part in the paddling if they are anxious about being on the water. However, each one will have a role to contribute, whether it is taking photos, looking after equipment or leading haka. As Teina says, "Everyone engaged in waka ama has a responsibility to make a real commitment to their team, which is part of that connection because you can't run a waka with half a team."

Teina hopes to give the graduates a hoe (paddle) and contribute towards subscriptions to waka ama clubs so that they can carry on with the sport.

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