Opening Doorways to New Life

Between 2002 and 2010, more than 100 women who enrolled at Te Waipuna Puawai, the Mercy community development centre in Ellerslie, gained a qualification giving them entry to one of two Auckland polytechs.

Manager of Te Waipuna Puawai, Puamiria Maaka … Mercy means empowering women to better themselves and their whanau.

Of those who graduated at TWP in the seven years to 2008, 50% were in full or part-time employment; 17% were doing further studies; and 33% were homemakers, caring for pre-school or school-aged children.

In 2010, TWP delivered services to 123 new referrals; 249 of its clients were enrolled in Manukau Institute of Technology courses and 388 in other course. Around 45% of TWP’s clients were Maori; 30% Pacific peoples; 18% Pakeha; the balance were mostly refugees and new migrants. In the same period, a total of 98 pre-school children attended TWP’s early childhood centre.

These facts emerge from an extensive report on TWP’s community-based project ‘He Ohaki Mai – Legacies in the Making,’ undertaken by consultants Frances Hancock and Gerard Cotterell.

For more than a decade, the project has sought to guide low-income Maori, Pacific, refugee and migrant women living in Glen Innes and Panmure to foundational tertiary studies, leading to higher education and more skilled employment.

The project involves a wrap-around service delivery, supporting mothers and children to ‘learn under one roof but in different spaces’ at the purpose-built facility in Ellerslie.

The authors say that responses to their survey from participants in TWP’s programmes show high levels of satisfaction, with growth in confidence and self-esteem, learning new things and earning credits towards qualifications listed among goals achieved.

The wrap-around support provided by TWP’s 10 fulltime staff and over 30 volunteers, while costly in terms of time and resources, is seen as crucial to the centre’s success. Respondents from government agencies say that TWP has been able to work successfully with families whom other agencies struggle to reach, notes the report.

“Tailored to particular needs, this approach enables women and their whanau to overcome considerable challenges and to achieve significant personal goals, in some instances for the first time in their lives. Without the hands-on, down-to-earth, practical and flexible approach of TWP, some women may not have achieved their goals.”

The report quotes a focus group of TWP clients, talking about the difference the agency has made to their lives. “TWP empowers and encourages women to better themselves and their whanau. It helps women to look after their kids and to grow healthy relationships in families.

“It also helps to create community, enabling women to get to know each other as well as to work and learn together. TWP reduces the need for government agencies,” the focus group argued.

Feedback from the centre’s clients and external stakeholders show “extraordinary levels of satisfaction,” the authors note. “Findings show the TWP is successfully working with whanau that other agencies struggle to reach.”

Mercy is about “whom we work with – women and children,” says TWP’s manukura or manager, Puamiria Maaka. Mercy also defines “where we work – among those who have greatest need.”

And, she insists, mercy is also about “how we work – supporting women and families in moments of crisis, and assisting them to create crisis-free lives in the future by acquiring new skills and by building healthy relationships with themselves, family members and the community at large.”