Awhina Kaihe, Ngāti Porou, Ruatoria, is living her best life as a kaiāwhina with Turanga Health.
The former teacher aide and mother of one joined the iwi health organisation in September 2022 and says working in primary health services for whānau has changed her worldview.
“It’s a job that’s opened my eyes to what is going on for some people and that there is no room for judgement.”
Awhina is part of the tamariki ora team helping to look after around 350 pēpi born in Gisborne every year.
Nurses and kaiāwhina provide the nationally-available Well Child Tamariki Ora programme of health visits for children from 6 weeks up to 5 years. They also provide ante-natal wananga and other support for māmā and their pēpi.
As a single māmā, Awhina is more aware than most about what it’s like to feel vulnerable and in need of support from others. In 2021, while heavily pregnant with her daughter, she fell gravely ill with pneumonia and bronchitis. Struggling to breathe she was rushed to hospital in Gisborne and admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). She was then transferred Tauranga Hospital’s ICU.
“It was life-threatening for me and I could have lost her,” says Awhina in her husky voice, another reminder of what impact the illnesses had on her. “Yes, a lot of people notice that! The illness took my voice from me and two years later it’s still coming back slowly.”
Another big change for Awhina has been an incredible weight loss over the past three years. Once weighing in at over 140kg Awhina is now a healthy body shape and size giving her the freedom to do the things she and her daughter love like spending time at a whānau farm near Ruatoria. “It’s so peaceful up there.”
Awhina, whose name means helper, grew up on the East Coast and went to school at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiu O Ngati Porou, and Lytton High School. She worked towards getting her teacher’s certificate from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and says she will complete it one day.
Awhina worked at Te Puna Reo o Raparapaririki in Ruatoria for three years before making the move to Gisborne and working at a kōhanga reo as a kaiāwhina, also for three years.
On the day of this interview Awhina, 28, was observing nurse and kaiāwhina influenza and Covid-19 immunisations at a Turanga Health vaccination clinic. The experience is setting her up to work at Turanga Health’s popular and successful whānau vaccination drive-through events held most weekends around the rohe.
“Joining Turanga Health has been a healthy decision for me, and my baby and I am grateful every day I have the opportunity to work here. I now see the difference we can make with the help that we can provide. I see it on their faces. I’ve told my mum and dad; ‘this is the workplace for me’.”
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