Teaming up with the Middlemore Foundation.

Established in 1999, the Middlemore Foundation partners with communities to raise funds to initiate and support key projects in health, homes and education within Counties Manukau. The team are passionate about South Auckland and the people of the community. 

The Robinson Duo are proud and honoured to be partnering with the Middlemore Foundation to continue to support the work they do in the community. Read on to learn more about all they do.

Telling the story
Cut off from support networks
When young people can’t go to school, whatever the reason, they lose their access to school breakfasts and lunches. This means they often go hungry. School teachers that we work with tell us they get messages from rangtahi that have no food at home.

At school, rangitahi in South Auckland are motivated by their peers, their friends and some of their favourite teachers. These young people need connection face to face. On zoom, this is much harder to achieve. One of the head teachers at Manurewa High School told me that she really struggled to motivate her students during lockdown 1, but she managed it. In the most recent lockdown rangitahi struggled to get out of bed, they were down, depressed, anxious and demotivated. She was worried that not much learning happened over the lockdown weeks at all.

Solo young parents seem to be very affected. Stuck at home with no one but several young children, one (teenage) mum had run out of food and money and could not go out. She had run out of formula. She fed her baby sugar and water for 24 hours before one of the food banks that we work with got to her. This was during the first lockdown. These stories are commonplace.

Similarly older Kaumatua and kuia, particularly those with health issues, are cut off, and also young children are held back from school due to virus anxieties and also whakamā – shame, all sorts of shame. Shame of no food to take, no decent clothes, no masks, head lice or school sores.

One of our biggest worries is that young year 12 and 13 students have been sent to work after their parents lost work or lost full-time work – they aren’t able to go back to school and are working in minimum wage jobs with limited job security. A generation could be lost. These are some of our highest achievers. On ex-student told me that this year’s head boy at her old school has had to give up school to find work to support the family. This is a promising young student! He also won a trip to Outward Bound. He could not go due to financial circumstances and having to work. He was so
proud of that award. So he gave it to his friend to go, but his friend had no money to support the trip – no shoes, no clothes, no transport money. A community organisation in Manurewa took him shopping at got him what he needed to go. This was in the last few weeks.

We need to find a way to provide flexible part time work hours so these young people can return to school and keep earning. Or more flexible schooling. Many South Auckland secondary school Principals are actively campaigning to try to achieve this.

We were contacted yesterday by a school nurse at a high school in Central Auckland city asking for masks. Her young students (teenagers, high school age) almost all need to catch public transport from South and West Auckland to get into school -they are on scholarships – and none of them can afford masks, so we plan to get them some! Calls like this come in daily.

Mental Illness
It is a massive and untold issue in South Auckland made worse by the latest lockdown. Every community organisation I talk to tells me spontaneously about suicide attempts in tamariki as young as 11 and 12. A person I work with in the community tells me of her daughter’s friend, who was 13,
who took her own life, cutting her wrists. He daughter attended the funeral last week. They had no idea she was suicidal, but the family has major issues. Her mother, I am told, is a meths addict. The extended family of 8 live in two bedrooms – it’s a damp and cold home with draughts – often they will all sleep in one room – they can’t afford to run the heater that they have been given. There is most likely abuse and violent in the home. It got too tough for this young woman, but a horrible way to die – alone and in pain. I hear many stories of loss of hope.

Anxiety is prevalent. There is a lot of pressure on these young people to provide for their families and many cannot see any way to do this. Melissa from the Pride Project in Manurewa has been getting our reusable masks out to the most challenged whānau in particular they young ones whose
families are battling with drugs, addiction and gang issues. She says they feel so special getting such lovely masks to wear. She says there is depth of despair and loss of hope out there right now and some of these beautiful masks (from Annah Stretton) make people feel loved and cared for and
have made a real difference, for a short time anyhow, it’s amazing how much a small thing can count.

There is a lot of self harming, sexual abuse and domestic abuse happening in overcrowded homes where there is no support and nowhere to run to.

Still prevalent at school, mainly from middle aged white people. I personally was told by a South Auckland primary school principal that he would not expect any future staff to come from his community there because “they won’t make good teachers; they won’t come from here”. It makes me very angry to think about that. I have been told of teachers that actively discourage brown students from pursuing academic subjects and send them into the Trades. Even when they want to do Maths or Science.

Many of our kaupapa Māori groups that we work with, mainly the Marae, believe that they cannot be well unless they can connect back to their own whenua – hence all of our Maara Kai (community vege garden) projects. They are looking for mana motuhake – a sense of control over their own
lives -their own destinies – which has been removed/lost…..communities empowered to find their own solutions themselves.

Quotes from rangitahi and whānau in South Auckland (Source: TSI/MOE Research 2020)
“The family is full of jailbirds and yeah, that is where I was heading off but then I had to realise the responsibility to look after my family at home.” (Student in alternative education)

“Yeah, when I see my family struggle, it makes me want to learn and makes me want to become better. They don’t want to be like that and I don’t want them to struggle anymore.” (Student in alternative education)

“What do I want for the future? A life out of South Auckland. Hard!” (Students in alternative education).

“I had a struggled life until I met my Mrs and I just want to move out of Auckland and be based where there is no bad people or anything. No bad influences. I just want a happy neighbourhood, like on TV what you see in Neighbours.” (Student in alternative education)

They know what sacrificing is because my mum sacrifices for us hard bringing us up. My mum tells us, “You’ve got to sacrifice this if you want to get there,” and that’s why I understand. Yeah, all good. Got to sacrifice here and there is all good because at the end of the day I want the big picture. We’re not looking for tomorrow. Yeah, we’re looking for centuries. I’m looking at centuries.” (Rangatahi not in education or employment)

“I just want my whānau to be well off. I don’t want them to have to worry about anything anymore. Straight up, everyday’s a struggle and I don’t want that anymore. I know when I make … straight up, my whānau’s coming with me.” (Rangatahi not in education or employment)

“It is just pretty much like you have that specific culture to be treated fairly. If you’re like Māori or Islander, then you are pretty much just treated like shit.” (Secondary student)

“Oh like the other Pacific students in my class, we sit at the back because to avoid in a way cause we used to like sit in the middle but like now that he doesn’t like we don’t know anything or like his teaching isn’t useful for us cause he teachers like too fast or something and we just sit at the back
and we just chill.” (Secondary student)

“I’d rather probably be at intermediate cause not as much responsibilities and stuff and cause yeah just have to do lots of work and I just didn’t understand any of it. And I didn’t really like to ask for help so I’ll just try do as much as I could.” Can I ask why you didn’t like to ask for help? “Cause I was just shy.” (Secondary student)

“My English teacher she was pretty straight up especially encourages us—she hates racism, I don’t know if that’s right, but she loves us Pacific Islanders and it’s the way she explains stuff to us that makes us want to learn. But she tells us to write essays for our assessments; she will tell us to write about where we come from to get that. And I think that’s what inspired me to learn more.” (Secondary student)

What NZ needs to know
Gosh, where to start? Well over half of South Auckland’s people identify as Māori or Pasifika, and a quarter are under the age of 15. Far too many are forced to deal with the effects of chronic poverty and family stress. Chronic poverty in this country has become a cycle that it is incredibly difficult to escape from. It is a horribly unfair paradox that sustained levels of stress take away the very ‘bandwidth’ that is needed for tackling the problems at the root of that stress.

When a person lives in poverty, experiences family violence, or is exposed to other severe or prolonged stressors, research suggests the body is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the brain. This overloads the brain’s ability to solve problems, set goals, exercise self-control and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
– The Southern Initiative (part of Council)

To make matters worse, toxic stress is an intergenerational problem. 28% of the tamariki in Manurewa, for example, are exposed to four or more sources of chronic stress in their first 1000 days, which TSI’s research and the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUINZ) study indicates makes them 7-8 times more likely to have behavioural difficulties measurable by age 2. By the time they hit school these ‘3 in 10’ are less able to learn, plan, focus, remember instructions, switch tasks and control impulses. A quality free education is meant to be the great leveller, but these tamariki are being deprived of the opportunity to gain full benefit from it. And so disadvantage is compounded and passed to the next generation.

Despite all of these challenges, the greatest asset for breaking the cycle remains the people of South Auckland themselves. This is a region of tight-knit whānau, where family members are overwhelmingly cherished. While we have all seen the effects of hardship, families want to be part of a community that they can be proud of.

This provides a foundation for whānau to take action to take on their challenges. Harvard research has shown that the ability to develop problem-solving capability extends into adulthood, but this gets built through active practice – not by attending seminars or reading brochures.

So the circuit-breaker these whānau need is to alleviate elements of toxic stress to create some bandwidth, and then to curate opportunities to build skills and take positive action.

What we need to do
Chronic stress is multifactorial and the optimal approach to it (faith-based, marae-based, school-based, etc.) varies from whānau to whānau. There is not, and cannot be a one-stop shop to address the full range of challenges.

One result is that it is very difficult for families under pressure to navigate the ecosystem of social service providers that provide assistance in areas as varied as housing, addiction, budgeting and family violence.

The capacity to access help requires a readiness that often requires becoming mindful of the situation and naming the key challenges. Experience and co-design work with the Manurewa community tells us that this requires a safe space, time to build trust and the ear of a skilled navigator who has empathy from lived experience. Research and community hui also make clear that sustainable solutions involve people taking charge of the solution to their own problems, which requires opportunities to practice new skills that open doors and build mana.

In short, whānau facing toxic stress need the support of someone to navigate both the realities of their experience and the ecosystem of support and opportunities available. The ecosystem is currently fragmented and disconnected. We need to connect it; knit it to together to support whānau.

A focus on employability and pathways to employment particularly for young people is also needed, led by the community and the schools. The Middlemore Foundation is working with the community and stakeholders to connect, facilitate and empower community-led leadership. To support the community to regenerate from within: we have a lot of lose and a whole lot more to gain if we together make this happen, make this work.

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi

Sandra Geange, CEO Middlemore Foundation, 27 October 2020