Stroke survivor hosts hui in Bay of Plenty to support whānau

By Jessica Tyson
Photo source / NZ Speech-Language Therapy Association

When Rukingi Haupapa experienced a stroke he had to learn how to speak again in te reo Māori and English.

Fifteen years later, the Ngāti Whakaue researcher is devoted to helping others affected so set up the Awhi Mai Stroke Trust. Awhi Mai supports survivors on their hikoi to recovery by offering advice and connecting them and their whānau to support services and other families going through the same experience.

“We’re all surrounded by health professionals and so on. We've got hauora groups on just about every corner but the majority of them don't know about stroke. The only ones that do are the ones that have actually experienced stroke in their own whānau,” Haupapa says.

He says most whānau don’t talk about stroke because they are whakamā (embarrassed).

“Your language coming out of your mouth starts coming out up-side-down and back-to-front. I couldn't talk for about three months and I was a teacher leading up to that. So I was one of those guys that you had to tell to shut up and sit down.”

He says re-learning te reo was a great reminder of how beautiful the language is.

“The great thing was it gave me a chance to re-learn the beauty that we do have. So dealing with all these horrible emotions because, when a stroke hits you, it's the physical damage first, then your hinengaro [mind] starts going haywire.”

Rotorua where Awhi Mai began

Haupapa lives in Rotorua where he first established Awhi Mai.

“In Rotorua, we've got about 30 marae around our lake and we've got family around those marae who've had strokes, whānau who have survived and are actually hiding in their homes around these marae. So our Māori stroke group began to move around the lake and gradually it led to research and that's where I am today.”

After suffering a stroke in 2005 Haupapa went back to tertiary education to study for a Bachelor of Teaching and then a Master of Indigenous Studies. He’s now in the final year of his doctorate research focused on stroke in Te Puku o Te Ika, Māori social groups in the centre of the North Island.

He hopes his experience with stroke and his understanding of the diagnosis will help others.

“What I love about the Māori world is we learn from each other and so tuakana, teina is one of those ways that we can learn whether it’s good bad or ugly," he says.

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when a blockage such as a clot blocks the blood flow to the brain, or when a burst blood vessel bleeds into the brain. Haupapa says while the number of non-Māori who have experienced stroke in Aotearoa is decreasing, the rates for Māori, Pacific and Asian people are increasing.

When Haupapa meets other families, he shares his own experiences of how he recovered.

 “The next whānau that comes along doesn't have to go through all of the trial and error that we had to go through because nobody had a chance to meet with anybody else.”

At a conference he organised last year, participants made a list of all of the things that they did to recover.

“If you have a stroke, then straight away you have physiotherapists who try and keep you active. What we found out was every one of us, we were either into fishing or hunting or gardening, so well, why not do the physical stuff there. You know get us involved and at the end of it we could end up with a product we could give to others.”

Upcoming hui

In the upcoming hui he hopes to help Māori families affected.

“Three in September and two in October. Four of them are at hospitals like Whakatane Hospital, Tauranga Hospital, Rotorua Hospital and a hauora group called Maketu, which is a little coastal community halfway between Tauranga and Whakatane,” he says.

He says hospital managers have come on to support.

“We now have the staff of all these different organisations jumping in and the main thing when we are together is to meet kanohi ki te kanohi,” he says.

During the hui the trust will provide advice to whānau and connect them to support services.


  • Tokoroa September 7, 10am to 1pm at the hospital library
  • Maketū September 8, 10.30am to 1pm at Hauora House
  • Whakatāne September 11, 10.30am to 1pm at the hospital Māori offices
  • Rotorua October 6, 11am to 1.30pm at the hospital atrium
  • Tauranga October 9, 10am to 1.30pm at the hospital Māori offices