In late 2014, VisionWest embarked upon a journey to better understand what it is to truly partner with our tangata whenua – our people of the land. From the Board Chair, to the CEO to our On-the-Ground service providers, we asked the question of how to walk together, share together, learn together and serve together. We called it our “Cultural Integration” project, but it has become so much more than just that.
If we had been paying lip-service only to the project, we would have simply added a few token bits of art, spoke a bit more te reo and thought we were done. But we weren’t interested in just paying it lip-service. Following the example of our CEO, Lisa Woolley, we dove in. And “dove in” is the appropriate words. The richness and treasure that is there to be discovered has blown many of us away.
Our kaumatua, Brad Haami and our Matua Anaru, patiently took those with varying levels of understanding through a process of not just understanding language, but revealing thinking, culture, a whole way of being.
It is out of this context of discovery, that an ancient but new approach to walking with those most in need has emerged. It’s called Whanau – loosely translated family, but not just as an abstract thing, family in its fullness.
For years, VisionWest has provided a wide range of “wrap-around” services for people in need. An organic model of “wrap around” developed. An approach based on the idea that people’s problems and needs rarely have a single solution. Basically, our problems are often complex. Part of our DNA has also been to not view the people we with work with as problems, but rather humans that we journey with. In many respects, we have been on the road to the whanau centre for a very long time.
In 2013, Lisa Woolley wrote a thesis as part of her Master’s Degree work that really made our methodology of journeying and ‘wrap-around’ tangible. It also, put concrete research around the effectiveness of such an approach. Following the lives of 10 people, she was able to show that by journeying and providing all the services needed in a holistic way, was a far more effective way of supporting transformation in a persons life.
Fast forward to 2015. What happens when you take an organisation committed to walking with people over the long hall, and meeting their needs holistically; And combine that approach with a commitment to embracing the richness and learnings of our tangata whenua who have journeyed patiently with us foryears… The Whanau Centre!
To help us understand a bit more about what that means for us as an organisation and for the people we walk with, we’ve interviewed Sarah Chapman, the Whanau Centre – Implementation Manager.
VW: Sarah, unpack for us the essence of whanau.
SC: Whanau doesn’t mean family the way many pakeha would think of family today. It has a real ‘collective’ focus, rather than just a singular family. In one sense, its about mum and dad and kids and also the extended family of grandparents and aunties and uncles. But in another sense, its even larger. Whanaunga! The village as community. In its fullest sense, neighbour becomes whanau. A lot like the Bible talks of us all being children of God. We are all brothers and sisters.
VW: So what needs to change in my paradigm, my thinking, to embrace this concept?
SC: Well first of all, you need to not think of it as a concept or a place or a centre. You need to think of it as a way of being. I think what’s important is for us all to understand we are whanau already. It’s not a department, its who we are. Probably something else that would need to shift, is how easy it is for us to think very individually. There is a fantastic whakatauki (maori proverb) that says: Naku te rourou, te rourou ka ora ai te iwi – With my basket and your basket we thrive together. This is quite significant, so don’t miss it. You can get on okay on your own. But “We” cannot “thrive” without each other.
VW: So how do you see the Whanau Centre, Hub, way of being-thingy actually working at VisionWest?
SC: “thingy”, really… No seriously, I think probably understanding that at VisionWest this is now who we are and how we operate. That also means, that we aren’t individual as services. Yes, we have our departments, but we need to have very holistic views ourselves and always be looking how we can share our “baskets”. How can we not only connect the people we help with other services, but also how we can help each other.
VW: What would your hope be for the people we journey with? What changes for them?
SC: I have many, but we’ll know this is really working when there own identities begin to change. When they understand that they have gone from “coming and taking” to “coming and contributing”. Remember, they have a basket we can be enriched by as well.
We will continue to write about the Whanau Centre as we progress on this journey.