Empowering whānau during lockdown

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Care extends to home environment . . . Karanga Mai mum Caite Hutson with children Sophia, Chase (a nephew), and Poppy. Photo: Supplied

Don’t worry, your children are going to be okay”.

That’s the message from Karanga Mai Early Education Centre team leaders Jacinta McInerney and Marlena Bunnage and it’s the message they sent their whānau home with when, some 48 hours ahead of the rest of the community, Karanga Mai were sent into lockdown, while Covid-19 testing was carried out on a student at neighbouring Kaiapoi High (which fortunately turned out to be negative).

We had only three hours’notice to have our whole community going into emergency self-isolation.” Jacinta McInerney says.

“A top priority was making sure that our whānau had enough in their cupboards to be in self-isolation. For people who live week to week, that’s really difficult.”

Through the Community Pantry at Kaiapoi Community Support, one of Community Wellbeing North Canterbury Trust’s free services, the Centre were able to send 15 families home with emergency food parcels.

Once all the families were safely home, Jacinta McInerney put Karanga Mai’s lockdown plan into action.

“The key thing for us is upholding the mana of all our whānau during this time, being available to help problem-solve, to talk and be there for them, to offer practical ideas, and to love and support them in that really vital job that they’re doing, caring for their children at home.” Jacinta says.

The first thing the team did was set up a closed Facebook group to enable them to connect with families. Everyday begins with a live karakia and a waiata.

“It’s a ritual that really frames the day for our whānau.” Marlena says.

“We have enjoyed it more so now than ever because it’s given us something to look forward to each and every day with everything that’s going on” Karanga Mai parent, Caite Hutson says.

“Twice a day we can tune in and feel like we have a sense of normality back in our life, and the support from everyone at Karanga Mai through this awful time has meant so much, the support is incredible. I’m proud to be a part of Karanga Mai, it’s more than just a school, it’s a family.” Caite says.

Through the day, Karanga Mai teachers tell stories to the children, do activities together and Marlena, who has just completed a full immersion te reo Māori course through a study award offered by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with Mātauraka Mahaanui, takes mini-te reo Māori lessons that are contextual and relevant to our new reality. “We learn a new word of the week, a kīwaha or idiom, and a whakatauāki/whakataukī quote or proverb, to guide us for the week.” Marlena says.

This week’s whakatauāki is: Me ka moemoeā au, ko au anake; Me ka moemoeā tātau, ka taea e tātau: ‘If I were to dream alone only I would benefit. If we were to dream together we could achieve anything’ (Princess Te Puea Herangi, iwi: Tainui). Another whakatauāki is from the first ever chief of Tuahiwi, Pita Te Hori, Ngāi Tūāhuriri; ‘Kia atawhai ki te iwi’ which translates as ‘care for the people’, which couldn’t be more appropriate right now.

It’s like we’ve flipped normal Karanga Mai life!” Jacinta says. “Whānau aren’t physically coming to us at the moment, but we’re now coming into their homes.” says Jacinta,

“It’s a real privilege.”

It’s hard not seeing the tamariki every day, Jacinta and Marlena say, but as an essential worker, Jacinta is delivering food parcels to families twice a week, “so I get to see wee faces at the window, smiling and waving at me… I love that!” Jacinta says.

Karanga Mai is a community-based early learning centre run by Community Wellbeing North Canterbury Trust. The Centre, which in 2016 won a Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Award, was initially established to provide education and care for the children of teen parents attending Karanga Mai Young Parents’ College, but the Centre opened up their services to the wider community last year.

“We want everyone in our community to have access to high quality early childhood education, so our services are free and we pick up and drop off children to their homes if needed.” Jacinta says.

If you’ve got young ones at home, the Karanga Mai message is clear: don’t stress about their education during this time.

“They’ll keep learning from you, from just being in your whānau.” Marlena says. The Karanga Mai teachers encourage parents to trust themselves and their own intuition.

“You are the expert in your own children,” Marlena says. Jacinta advises that you don’t have to spend all day with your child. It’s more important to spend short periods of time where you’re really focused on your child, following their lead, playing what they want to play. It could be 15 minutes, it could be five minutes.

“This focused time spent with you will really top them up emotionally,” Jacinta says, “and that’s the number one thing”.