Ruth Jones, Kaiwhakahaere of Hei Whakapiki Mauri, calls Te Pūtahitanga’s Kōanga Kai initiative “inspired” and says supporting whānau to develop their own māra kai has many benefits beyond food security and the provision of fresh, healthy kai.

Ruth (Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata), and her husband Gary Williams (Ngāti Porou), started Hei Whakapiki Mauri to bring tangata and whānau whaikaha together to tautoko each other and build community. Being Māori first and lifting the mauri of everyone is important to Ruth across all of her mahi and she says the Kōanga Kai initiative dovetails perfectly with the Hei Whakapiki Mauri kaupapa.

“Disabled people are viewed often as passive recipients of services and we want to change that paradigm. Being part of Te Pūtahitanga and the Kōanga Kai project gives us another opportunity to do that. It means we’re part of a bigger rōpū that is more important than disability support,” she says.

Ruth, who has a long history as a leader in Aotearoa’s disability community, says Covid-19 has meant their small organisation has had to pivot to enable them to continue to support disabled whānau and Kōanga Kai has played a key role in that.

“The biggest thing to come out of it for us, is that whānau have connected. Some people may only have contact with paid support and they’re often lonely. That’s where Kōanga Kai has been good. Our Māra Kaimahi, Paul Pohipi (Ngāti Porou), has been able to help whānau with their māra and check everyone is okay.”

The original Hei Whakapiki Mauri māra project was the brainchild of Whānau Ora Navigator, Billy Willis (Tainui). Billy, with his partner and fellow Navigator, Waikura McGregor (Ngāi Tahu), supported whānau to create and sustain their own māra using raised garden boxes when needed.

In 2021, Hei Whakapiki Mauri applied to Te Pūtahitanga for Kōanga Kai funding, which has allowed them to begin developing a Manaaki Māra in Woodend, near Christchurch, in addition to the 2020 project.

“Ngaio McKee gifted us her late husband’s vegetable garden space and knowing that not all our whānau have the capacity to grow their own garden, we thought this would be a positive way to provide vegetables for people.”

Paul Pohipi also propagates vegetable and flower seedlings.

“It’s a very organic thing. Paul’s help is broad and it goes beyond just gardening. For us, it’s all about supporting our disabled whānau.

“For us, the journey is as important as the result. Kōanga Kai is not only helping us grow and produce kai, it’s a shared experience that is a clear example of rangatiratanga.”