First team In

Herewini Te Koha – Deputy Secretary, Relationships and Information– was in the first team that went in just after the earthquake. He actually took the call from Dave Ormsby reporting in after he had evacuated the Christchurch office.

Herewini reported to CEO Leith Comer and other senior staff, and a plan was hatched that same afternoon to provide support. A small team was drawn together from Wellington, Whanganui and Whangārei and by the evening of the day after the quake they were on their way south. And that began the pattern of Te Puni Kōkiri support with people in the field and senior staff like Geoff Short – Deputy Secretary, Whānau and Social Policy – back in head office feeding Te Puni Kōkiri advice back into the senior government meetings co-ordinating the overall government approach back in the capital.

Herewini reflects on his time in Ōtautahi, which included hosting the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister – Rt Hon Kevin Rudd – at Rēhua Marae.

Herewini’s story

“I got a fright when I got back from Christchurch. I thought I’d left my TPK shirt behind. Not one of the legendary green shirts, mind you, but a simple black one. I get the sense that the colour coding for TPK shirts works in the opposite way to karate belts. You start with black and eventually work your way up to green. Hei aha the All Blacks and their kit. The Green Shirt is where it’s at: hei pounamu.

Job descriptions? Hierarchy? Those were parked on this side of Raukawa Moana as the team hit the ground. Smarts and heart were what counted, and Te Puni Kōkiri staffers have that in spades.

There was the green shirt trying to help WINZ clear a six hour queue at a Welfare Centre. The WINZ team leader apologised but said that they couldn’t have non-WINZers helping them to fill out their forms. At just that moment (pono ki te Atua) the Minister for Social Development walks into the centre and, bypassing about fifteen layers of bureaucracy and protocol, our colleagues says, “excuse me, Paula, is it okay for me to help your staff?”

“You do what you need to do, young man,” was the ministerial reply. Checkmate.

We all know the scale of devastation and loss of life that the earthquake had on Christchurch. What was revealed to us on the ground, in very real ways, was the sheer dislocation and distress of whānau and their communities. The need for kai, water and emergency relief. The need for initial contact; something delivered by the outstanding Māori Wardens, Ngāi Tahu-led volunteers and many others. The need to stay close to their kids in case another big quake suddenly hit. And the long-term support those whānau will need to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and sense of community.

What was also revealed to us was that our colleagues in Wellington, and across the motu, well and truly had our backs. The marae coordination across the motu was outstanding; the issues feeding into the various welfare advisory groups were on the money; the “can do” attitude in response to some of our loopier requests was unstinting; and the rapid response from Leith, Geoff and co, through the national co-ordination group, to clear away response blockages on the ground. “From our lips to Geoff’s ears” became a bit of a local mantra.

But I don’t want to lapse into using past tenses in sharing these experiences. The recovery forward stretches weeks, months and years ahead of us all. With that in mind I want to lend my own small words of tribute to our Te Waipounamu team, led by David. The rest of us always had the option of leaving Christchurch behind us and going home at any time. But our local colleagues were - and are - carrying the stresses that only Cantabrians can truly know while acquitting themselves outstandingly in the days and weeks that followed the quake.

During a recent session in Parliament, Metiria Turei, MP made special mention of David’s leadership and contribution to the Māori recovery work based at Rēhua Marae during the first few weeks. This was fully deserved, as have been the various other acknowledgements that have been made of Te Puni Kōkiri by Members of Parliament, senior officials and, importantly, the local people.

I’ll leave the final word to another Green Shirt who shall remain similarly nameless.

Spotting a road side sign advising of a community meeting in progress he and his mate pull into the car park and start carrying trays of drinking water into the hall. This causes a little bit of stir among the audience, which has gathered to hear from two MPs from the two major parties, one a local member, the other down from Auckland.

The local member notices our two Green Shirts and pauses to ask which agency they represent. “Te Puni Kōkiri,” replies one of our colleagues. “Well, you’re the only government department that has taken the time to attend this meeting,” says the local member. Sensing an opportunity – and with deft delivery – our Green Shirt replies “God Bless You Minister, and your constituents.”

And back booms the reply from the local member, “and God bless Te Puni Kōkiri!”

He kupu whakamutunga tēnei mō tō tātau hoa mahi, a Mere Graham me tōnā whānau e noho tonu ana i raro i te kapua pōuri ō aituā i tēnei wā, mai i te wehenga atu ō ōna kōkā, ōna whaea. Mā te Atua koutou, tātau e manaaki, e tiaki.

Kāti rā.