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Bringing mental health to the forefront

June 24, 2020

Anaru Hodges feels that he can make a real difference.

In the past year Anaru Hodges made a 180-degree career change. It all began when his niece started studying at EIT. Anaru took her under his wing to help her through the first months on campus. He was then approached by a staff member who encouraged Anaru to study as well. “I was working as a sawmill operator at Pan Pac and never really considered tertiary education. However, I took a leap of faith and got out of my comfort zone,” says Anaru who is of Ngāti Pahauwera and Cook Island descent. 

In December 2019 he enrolled into a Certificate in Health and Wellbeing with a Mental Health & Addiction Strand. Flash forward one and half years later, Anaru has a qualification in his pocket and a full-time job as Kaitakawaenga Awhina (cultural adviser) with the DHB in Te Wahanga Hauora Māori (The Māori Health Unit). Currently Anaru is enrolled in the Diploma in Health and Wellbeing (Applied Practice) which is funded by his employer.

As part of the health and wellbeing certificate, Anaru undertook a placement at Te Wahanga Hauora Māori (The Māori Health Unit) and was offered a full-time position. “My late father had been the first CEO for this organisation, so it’s great that I can pick up from where he left off.”

Usually, Anaru works in hospital wards, floating between the mental health and other units. He also liaises with the Pasifika team. “Engaging effectively with our whānau allows us to see the world through their eyes and to give them culturally sensitive support. Coordinating with community support services can help bridge the health inequity gap that is well represented within Māori and Pasifika communities,“ Anaru explains.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Anaru was redeployed to Tihei Mauri Ora Emergency Response Centre (TMO), a partnership that was initiated by the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc to cater for vulnerable families (whānau pounamu). Tihei Mauri Ora (TMO) was part of the HB Civil Defence Emergency Management Group and also successfully networked with other Government agencies and local charitable organisations.

Anaru triaged incoming phone calls and referrals. “Our Satellite Food Hubs and Community Champions were able to help over 10,000 people from the Wairarapa up to Wairoa providing them with food parcels, firewood, hygiene packs, clothing and emergency housing.”

The ground-breaking thing was that TMO also included a mental health aspect in every single response. The TMO 0800 emergency response number is now being promoted as a helpline for Community Mental Health by the HB DHB.     

At the moment Anaru is working on a project that TMO started during lockdown. “Pan Pac donated free logs that were then cut by our volunteers and delivered to whānau. Our goal is to upskill these volunteers for the forestry industry by giving them the opportunity to get a health and safety certification, a chainsaw ticket while benefiting the community.”

“My work is so fulfilling and I feel that I can make a real difference,” says Anaru. “Seeing mental health problems through a cultural lens is desperately needed. I absolutely love my job and I am grateful for the support to continue with my studies from Māori Health Services and our EIT tutors. I would also like to acknowledge the love and support that my family has given me, Kia Manuia, He mihi nui kia koutou Katoa, whaia te tika.”