Iwi radio keeps uri connected and informed during lockdown

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Atiawa Toa FM staff never doubted their radio station should stay on air to support their communities through COVID-19 when the nation went into lockdown.

The iwi station is a part of Te Rūnanganui o Te Āti Awa ki te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui which received Te Puni Kōkiri investment to deliver pandemic-related support to Māori communities across the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Wellington City.

Atiawa Toa FM Assistant Manager Cory Stickle says they were able to coordinate the rūnanga COVID-19 response alongside its other roles, such as providing Whānau Ora and health services, which also refocussed to keeping people safe.

“For the radio it was about the tone and sincerity of the message to our Māori community and being able to reach people because of the rūnanga. Strategically, we could combine our efforts and give out trusted information,” he says.

Atiawa Toa FM’s listener and Facebook audience reach of 9,700 is mostly Māori and the station used the whare tapawhā concept (taha wairua, taha whānau, taha hinengaro, taha tinana) to discuss COVID 19 issues. It also created a blog with tips based on the ‘Protect our whakapapa’ Māori resource delivered by presenters on radio, Facebook and on their www.atiawa.com website.

“We received lots of questions from whānau. The tangi process has been one of the big take (issues) as there have been a number of deaths recently. We’ve been discussing different ways to express arohā, grief and manaakitanga at this time,” Cory says.

Operating a radio station with lockdown constraints has meant a very different way of working, including putting new health and safety measures in place such as an isolated studio to work from.

“For me it was getting approval from whānau (of staff) to operate and keep them safe. It challenged our team in terms of their skillset too and we were doing eight interviews in a three-hour shift,” he says.

An important factor for the iwi station was getting a good cross-section of whānau voices, community voices, along with the Government messages.

“Even internationally, we were finding out how our people were doing overseas. We got really heartfelt stories from speaking to our kaimahi who were on the ground in the community,” Cory says.

One of those rūnanga employees is Whānau Ora Navigator Kim Haumaha who has been distributing hygiene packs to whānau for the past three weeks.

“If you are a vulnerable whānau with a small income, there’s not a lot left for hygiene products which is why the Whānau Ora Commissioning agencies decided these packs were best for our communities.”

This week Kim and the team will be delivering packs to 750 households in Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Wainuiomata, together with the Regional Whānau Ora collective distributing 3,000 packs a week.

Each box contains handwash, rubber gloves, toilet paper, face masks, body soap, tissues, ladies’ products and face masks.

“In our first week, we rolled these out to kaumatua as our most vulnerable group. It was a beautiful experience to give them just a little something - and they were so grateful. They wanted to give us a hug, but they couldn’t of course,” she says.

Kim says it has been a well-oiled machine coordinating the support that’s reaching local whānau.

“We have Mainfreight NZ delivering our supply also with support from Hutt City Council.  We are doing all the precautions, keeping 2 metres distance, using PPE and sanitisers. We know the dangers as we return to our own homes where we have our whānau, like my mokopuna,” she says.

Atiawa Toa FM are alerting whānau to COVID-19 community resources like the hygiene packs by letting whānau know when the packs are about to go out.

The Rūnanganui o Te Āti Awa is using its database to deliver to whānau Māori they’ve supported before but have also identified a need to supply to families in emergency housing.

“There is a huge need there, including big whānau with kids, that sometimes don’t have a contact or registered address. It’s also that check-in to ask if they are safe and how they’re doing.”

“It’s all about relationships and we know the whānau in our community. It’s an offer of support and it has been well-received,” Kim says.