Rā Dallas, the whānau community champion for Te Whenua Hou sees himself as the conduit between a large farming community in North Canterbury and the wider region, and he is excited about the potential his role has for building on Whanau Ora values.
“We have a community of close to one hundred people now, spread across seven operational dairy farms and five grazing farms and that’s expected to grow. As in any new community, there are people living just 60 metres apart, who don’t even know each other – that’s where I come in,” says Rā.
“I’m working hard to create a community environment where our people feel more socially connected, so that they can feel comfortable about knocking on their neighbour’s door for a chat, a cup of tea, or for help.”
Funded by Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu through the Whenua Kura agricultural training programme, the whānau community champion role looks beyond where the programme is largely based at Te Whenua Hou, the Ngai Tahu Farm property north of the Waimakariri. Rā has met with representatives from the Oxford Trust, Waimakariri District Council and local schools as far afield as Rangiora and Swannanoa.
“I want to do everything I can to help our Whenua Kura students and farming whānau to connect with each other and with their wider communities. It’s about empowering them to look after themselves and each other and it’s about encouraging them to have a say about what they need and how we are going to achieve it,” says Rā.
He says a barbecue was recently organised to bring the community together – in that case particularly, to thank some Argentinian staff.
“That was a great success and in addition to demonstrating manaakitanga and whanaungatanga, it also encourages rangatiratanga and oranga – all key Ngāi Tahu values that we want to encourage every farmer to be a part of.
“We’ve also been working with Pegasus Health to have a Health Day on the farms so all workers can have a health check. Engaging with our Canterbury health providers in this way, enables our people to establish a trusted network of specialist support.”
Also involved in the project is Whenua Kura co-ordinator, Letitia Goldsmith, who is also building on-farm relationships especially between farm managers and staff, Lincoln University tutors and Te Tapuae o Rehua staff.
“The experienced farmers want to share their skills and even make time to ensure our students get basic skills in activities like backing trailers and fencing. It’s all about creating a fun, safe, and learning environment underpinned by our cultural values,” Letitia says.
She spends a lot of time advocating for students and building support around them.
“We have students from many different backgrounds, and from all over Aotearoa and some of them come to us with no immediate family to help and support them. They’re often disconnected from their families, so we step in to take care of any immediate health and wellbeing needs they may have while on farm at Te Whenua Hou. I often take groups of students to local events like community rugby.”
Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu invests in a wide variety of activities that build sustainable
whānau capability. Through programmes like Whenua Kura, Te Pūtahitanga encourages on-going investment in whānau development and wellbeing.