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The Awa that Binds Us Together: A Year in Review

Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu

Photo of our Healthy Families NZ Movement from across the motu at Tūrangawaewae Marae for our National Wānanga "Now and Beyond"

Te Awa Tupua serves as the sacred thread connecting our Kaahui Maunga to the sea, weaving through the fabric of our marae and resonating within the sacred halls of our Whare Tipuna. Adorned with tukutuku and whakairo, our marae walls are entrusted with the rich tapestry of our histories, tikanga, and tuakiritanga. These storytellers unveil the essence of our present actions, encapsulating the "why" behind everything we do.

The year began with an Awa haerenga that went beyond a simple river experience, providing our kaimahi with a profound opportunity to connect with and embrace the taiao. Transitioning from one waterway to the next, our kaimahi journeyed to Waikato at Tūrangawaewae Marae for the National Healthy Families Wānanga, themed "Now and Beyond." This haerenga not only marked a significant gathering for us all but also laid the foundation for future kanohi ki te kanohi gatherings, exemplifying the strength inherent in being part of a movement. We visited The Cause Collective in South Auckland, Healthy Families Hutt Valley, and we hosted Healthy Families Waitākere, the commitment to seeking and embracing these opportunities to connect and collaborate

.serves as the common awa binding us together.

Awa experience at the beginning of the year with kaimahi of Te Oranganui

In the tapestry of our work at Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitikei, Ruapehu, we firmly believe that impactful beginnings shape the trajectory of all our mahi. Reflecting on the past year, our profound journey through various initiatives aimed to enhance the conditions and capacities of ecosystems has paved the way for whānau-based solutions. As we reflect, gratitude fills our hearts for the collaborative efforts of individuals and communities committed to reimagining and addressing persistent challenges.

Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu connecting with Healthy Families Hutt Valley

Over the last 12 months, we've actively engaged in collaborative efforts with whānau and partners, exploring challenge-opportunities for meaningful change. Our commitment to social innovation defines our approach—curious, comfortable in uncertainty, learning by doing, and embracing the notion that whānau are the true experts of their own lives.

Our ethos at Healthy Families WRR is firmly rooted in neutrality, non-competitiveness, and principled actions. We staunchly believe in community-led solutions, rejecting top-down approaches that prove ineffective. Our role is not to dictate solutions but to empower diverse groups to design alternative or improved approaches, positioning prevention as a key driver.

The kaupapa of villages stand as tangible expressions of our commitment to whānau-centric solutions. These spaces serve as forums for the sharing of stories, ideas, and aspirations, weaving rich kōrero into actionable insights. True change, we believe, emanates from strengths-based, indigenous-led methodologies, harnessing the social capital of communities and the innovation inherent in whānau as the experts in their own lives.

As we navigate this year in review, the spotlight remains firmly on whānau. Our journey has reinforced the belief that true wellbeing approaches are designed and embedded when whānau are at the heart of the process, determining what works and should happen. Join us in revisiting the transformative moments and collaborative endeavours that have shaped this impactful year.

Matauranga Māori as Prevention Solutions

Matauranga Māori as Prevention Solutions is the application and utilisation of matauranga in the design of prevention systems. A Te Ao Māori worldview starts from a place of wellness. It incorporates not just an individual’s health and wellbeing, but also that of the collective. Furthermore, Māori see deep connection and relationship between all living things within and to the natural environment. In today’s world we must expand this perspective to be exclusive of built environments – neighbourhoods, workplaces, town-centres, and so on.  Matauranga provides us with a rich intelligence to the metaphysical and physical influences between people in place and space.

In the Collaborative Design of Mental Health & Addiction Service Delivery initiative we mapped five years of crisis data into the Maramataka phases. Clear patterns emerged clarifying that crisis occurs within four particular phases of the maramataka. In addition, the traditional narratives underpinning these phases provides new understanding of the human mindset and environmental energies alongside clinical observations. Therefore, the Collaborative are now exploring if earlier intervention is possible guided by the Maramataka.

Meretini Bennett-Huxtable doing a Walkthrough during 'Whakanuia'

In the “Smoke-Free Journey - A Smoke-Free Region” initiative, a Te Ao Māori worldview including pūrakau weaved the community Village together while they shared their lived experiences and ideas. There were so many benefits to reframing the smoke-free journey from an indigenous perspective. For many it was a completely new way of looking at the smoking addiction with some whānau re-discovering their potential to make positive life changes. The matauranga provided a context that people may not have considered before. The history of the smoking addiction across the generations with lack of context had people believing they were weak, or dumb as they continued to smoke, unable to quit.  Yet, the pūrakau provided whānau with a new mindset with which to imagine a smokefree future – a legacy that focuses on mokopuna decisions.   One of the key recommendations from this work is to shift resource flow to enable Māori to design and lead solutions that will work best for Māori communities.

“As a non-Māori I’ve seen how beneficial whakawhanaungatanga and manaakitanga in wānanga is. I feel more connected to the kaupapa than I have anything else. Sharing space and building connections with others over kai, talking about something positive and getting koha for my contribution to the village, I really feel empowered, like I’m contributing to making a difference not only for myself but for others too!”

Growing Collective Wellbeing Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy

The Growing Collective Wellbeing Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy strategically pursues a whole-of-community and whole-of-systems approach to the prevention of suicide, departing from isolated, siloed interventions, clinical crisis responses, and unaddressed risk factors.

The Traction Plan within the Growing Collective Wellbeing Strategy outlines 10 actions that can radically shift the dial and unlock our collective potential. Five of the 10 actions are in progress, involving a range of sector partners, community champions, and whānau with lived experience. These include: better data analysis and data sharing, changing the narrative, the art of great referral, Māori-led design of prevention systems, and community-led service design.

The Collaborative Design of Mental Health & Addictions Service Delivery is a collective response to transforming the mental health and addictions system. Sector and iwi leadership pledge to a collective impact approach for achieving the aspirations of the region, with sector experts providing guidance and support in systems innovation.

“It is great to be a part of this culture which is informing system level change…to be able to sit in a space with like-minded people is incredibly encouraging. The necessity of change is paramount as is the need to have a genuine collective approach across multiple agencies. My thanks to Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīeki, Ruapehu for leading and facilitating this.” [Alex Loggie, Mental Health & Addictions Educator, Te Whatu Ora]

The Strategic Leadership Group

Last week, we had the pleasure of bringing together the Strategic Leadership Group (SLG), dedicated to advancing systems change for health equity in Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu. The SLG is made up of leaders across the mental health & addiction sector. Their active leadership centres around collective action for community-led service design. They will focus on co-creating the future rather than reactive problem-solving. For the SLG to be successful in driving change it was agreed to operate in an environment that encourages reflection, generative conversations, trust-building, and collective creativity. The SLG will be responsible for unlocking opportunities to support the activation of the six systems change priorities in the Collaborative Design of Mental Health & Addiction Service Delivery – an initiative that targets a radical transformation for how communities can access easy to find quality supports, sooner rather than later.

“Congratulations on the outcome reached at last week’s SLG hui. It was an exciting and energizing process. So exciting I forgot my backpack when I left. At the meeting you spoke about the need for the SLG to have a high level of trust. Thursday’s outcome is a statement of the high level of trust in you all as a team and the process undertaken to reach this stage. But most of all it is the integrity and passion that all three of you bring to the process. Along with the great visionary leadership of your CEO, you achieved a great milestone on Thursday.” [Barry Taylor, Suicidologist]

Barry Taylor, Suicidologist and the Healthy Families team

The Regenerative Kai System

The Regenerative Kai System initiative strategically focuses on the community-led redesign of the local end-to-end supply chain, aiming for sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation. This initiative marks a shift from the industrial, corporate food system that contributes to food poverty and insecurity. The transition is toward a local regenerative kai system that fosters food resilience and security.

Healthy Families WRR in partnership with Te Ao Hou Marae, the Learning Environment and the community of Aramoho-Papaiti are working together to grow a local sustainable food system. The Aramoho-Papaiti movement focuses on growing social connectedness,  a sense of belonging, and supportive neighbourhood activities.

Activities include monthly Community Kai at Te Ao Hou Marae where the neighbourhood gathers to share food and getting to know each other. The monthly gathering can attract between 30 to 100 locals and has become a regular feature in the neighbourhood’s calender. Local government and other system stakeholders recognise the value in neighbourhood development and redirecting resource flow to support the acceleration of the kai system. So far the community have participating in learning how to grow kumara, planting a fruit forrest at the local school, exploring opportunities for healthy kai in the local shopping centre developments, and capturing the stories of traditional growing spots, or sites of significance for Māori.

Monthly Community Kai at Te Ao Hou Marae

The Good Food Roadmap is for local government to be active participants in championing the Good Food Roadmap. Progressive wins include Iwi leadership and local government leveraging the movement, identifying how the council can respond to the health needs of the community. The local government has signed up for the Good Food Roadmap and have activated two key initiatives within it. Local government leadership have also engaged with other Healthy Families NZ locations to share insights and resources for supporting community-led action and local system enablement.

The Early Years – Child Health & Wellbeing

The Early Years – Child Health & Wellbeing initiative strategically aims to create healthy environments as the optimal places for pēpi and tamariki to thrive, fostering their growth into healthy and productive adults. This aims to shift away from a high number of mokopuna experiencing inequitable health issues, particularly those in the greatest deprivation burdened with preventable chronic diseases. The focus now turns toward collective action, a whānau ora approach, cultivating healthy environments, addressing the social determinants of health, and provoking systems change.

Our Hapū Māmā Village officially presenting them with the Hapū Māmā Village Insights and Recommendations report

The Hapū Māmā Village initiative started in 2021with the final insights and recommendations report released earlier this year. The report includes the lived experiences of Hapū Māmā and maternal health practitioners in the maternity journey, identifying where there are persistent issues and how we can collectively overcome the systemic conditions holding these issues in place.  All services in the maternal and child health sectors participated in the initiative, with Te Whatu Ora Leaders agreeing to support the implementation of the recommendations. A group of Hapū Māmā Villagers have stayed in the initiative providing Healthy Families WRR with feedback and ideas at each stage of the activation.

To enable the implementation Healthy Families WRR is back boning healthcare services, maternity specialists and leaders to work collaboratively alongside whānau design villages. Several recommendations have secured further investment to support the implementation process. These include prototyping and testing Kaupapa Māori services that support whānau to engage earlier on their hapūtanga journey, ensuring Māmā and Pāpā have all of the right knowledge and tools in their kete to make well informed decisions. In addition, a Kaupapa Māori Hapūtanga Centre will be tested through a live design of a physical space to assist the sector in determining what types of environments and models of care encourage Māmā and her whānau to engage earlier with preventative healthcare services.

“The midwife listened to us and upheld our tikanga and kawa through the birthing and made it an uplifting experience.” [Hapū Māmā Villager]

Rangatahi Innovation

The Rangatahi Innovation initiative is making strides with rangatahi Kaupapa: Te Kākano, the Rangatahi Design Village, and Te Hoeroa ki Tū Manawa Ora. Te Kākano which worked with cohorts of young Māori tāne over four year period has completed testing the approach and is now collating key insights and evidence to inform the development of a Case for Change. The initiative tested a number of theories for improving the health and wellbeing of unemployed rangatahi tāne. Some early stage outcomes from our evaluation of Te Kākano Whanganui include:

  • 90% of rangatahi securing meaningful employment with positive feedback from whānau about the personal changes they are seeing with their tama

  • Examples of rangatahi stepping up in a leadership capacity

  • Examples of rangatahi becoming gardeners, producing kai to put on their whānau table

  • Examples of rangatahi taking greater care of their personal hygiene

  • Evidence of how rangatahi enjoy and benefit from cultivated routine

  • Common causes for rangatahi to feel motivated and self-disciplined

Rangatahi hauora day at Springvale Stadium Whanganui

The findings show the kaupapa’s theory of change has validity. While different cohorts’ experiences were unique to their group, the overall benefits for personal growth and development can be seen in the number of rangatahi now in employment [90%], the connection of kaimahi with rangatahi after their cohort completed [92%], examples of rangatahi experiencing marae life for the first time, and examples of rangatahi applying their learning in their personal life. Although not all rangatahi gained the same benefit and value from their participation they did recognise a level of benefit they had not previously experienced.

“I learnt a lot of life skills in the garden. It’s good teaching us about gardening so instead of going to the shop we know how to grow our own.”

“I’m learning to be more confident in myself.”

“I am learning new things and how to work as a team.”

The next steps for the Rangatahi Innovation team is to increase it’s investment to explore if Te Kākano could be improved upon targeting more specific areas of development.  "Te Hoeroa ki Tū Manawa Ora," is an empowering initiative that enables rangatahi to overcome challenges, stand tall with purpose and confidence. Symbolised by a "long steering paddle," Te Hoeroa embodies the courage to navigate the path to wellness. This action-packed six-month outdoor kaupapa offers rangatahi a transformative experience through deep engagement with whakapapa, te taiao, Te Awa Tupua, Te Kāhui Maunga, and Te Ao Māori. The program unfolds in marae and taiao contexts, encompassing wānanga, adventure, camping, environmental work, food cultivation, construction, physical exercise, and wellbeing practices, with expeditions spanning from the mountains to the sea.

Te Hoeroa focuses on building skills and capabilities within rangatahi through comprehensive support and mentorship. Participants will encounter diverse stories and opportunities, fostering personal confidence, cultural capability, and the ability to navigate toward their personal, Hapū, Iwi, and community aspirations. Partnerships with Te Oranganui, Learning Environment, Te Ao Hou Marae, and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi contribute to the success of this initiative, promising more updates in the future.

Te Hoeroa rangatahi about to go on a hike through the forest at Pīwakawaka farm

In the last six months Healthy Families WRR also set up a Rangatahi Design Village to encourage rangatahi to participate in designing their own preventative solutions. The Rangatahi Innovation team within Waiora Whānau will backbone and house the design villages. The core design group of rangatahi will engage with a broader range of rangatahi across the region, including established youth and community groups, the Rainbow community, schools/kura, and referred NEET youth. Rangatahi will learn the fundamentals of design thinking and indigenous innovation, and then will be supported to connect with other rangatahi to co-design potential solutions, then testing their ideas to determine the effectiveness and value. Already, partners are interested in supporting rangatahi to lead design challenges in youth vaping, bullying, healthy relationships, and growing young peoples’ protective factors.


The Play Movement plan is driving an integrated approach to elevate community participation in active lifestyles, play, and movement primarily using Māori games and matauranga. The Kaupapa has successfully engaged a range of primary and secondary schools in adopting a Te Ao Māori approach to movement and play encouraging greater understanding of cultural practices and deepening their connection with Māori ways of thinking and doing. The Play Movement plan continues to drive transformative shifts in community attitudes towards active lifestyles, emphasising the significance of cultural considerations in the realm of play. Healthy Families WRR has taught, coached, and encouraged over 400 students, both Māori and non-Māori in taonga tākaro and kapa-haka.

Uncle Tere (Kaiwhakakaha) working with tamariki in the kura.

Smokefree 2030

The Smokefree initiative engaged with smokers and ex-smokers to better understand the challenges in becoming a smokefree region. The Smokefree Futures report was released earlier this year with key insights of the common challenges whānau experience, and recommedations for creating a smokefree region. This publication serves as a foundational resource for both mainstream health and Māori Health providers to design and tailor their responses to address the identified challenges and opportunities.

Te Waipuna Medical Centre kaimahi and our team working through the recommendations

The team are currently working with primary healthcare partners to activate the recommendations. The collaborative nature of this initiative is evident in the engagement of key stakeholder groups, fostering a shared understanding and commitment to the Smokefree Futures objectives. By providing a roadmap through the insights and recommendations, the initiative empowers health providers to align their strategies with the broader vision of achieving a smoke-free future. As stakeholders continue to refine and implement their responses, the Smokefree Futures initiative remains a catalyst for coordinated efforts towards a healthier, smoke-free environment.

“This became a safe space for me to share more meaningfully, a place where I feel safe to be vulnerable – me and my whānau can be authentic and come up with the solutions together.” [Smoke Free Villager]

As we reflect on these achievements, it is evident that each initiative has contributed to transformative changes in their respective areas. The commitment to indigenous perspectives, collaboration, and community-led solutions shines through. These initiatives collectively lay the foundation for healthier, more resilient communities, embodying the principles of mātauranga Māori and collective impact. The journey continues, and these accomplishments set the stage for ongoing collaboration and progress in the years ahead.

Ko te Awa te mātāpuna o te ora

E rere kau mai te Awa nui mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa

Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au

Ngā manga iti, ngā manga nui e honohono kau ana, ka tupu hei Awa Tupua

The river is the source of spiritual and physical sustenance

The great River flows from the mountains to the sea

I am the River and the River is me

The small and large streams that flow into one another and form one River


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