As Christine Nepia clocks up 20 years at Tūranga Health she recalls it took two attempts to get a job with the hauora.
“Someone told me to apply for a job as a drug and alcohol educator but that was after I had applied for a kaiāwhina job...and didn’t get it!” says Christine, also known as Nogs.
Christine told her whānau “nah, they’ve already declined me!” But the whānau perservered and it’s been Tūranga Health’s good fortune to have her on the team ever since.
Christine is Ngāi Tāmanuhiri on her dad’s side and Ngāti Porou through her mum. She spent some of her early life up the Coast but when her maternal grandmother passed she reconnected with her Ngāi Tāmanuhiri roots back in Muriwai.
Christine’s first health job was in 1996 as a health promoter with the Public Health Unit (PHU). At the time she was noticing Māori seemed to become unwell and die earlier than non-Māori.
“I lost my dad to cancer in 1988 and I was always wondering ‘why has this happened?’ I didn’t want to see my own whānau, hapu or iwi go through what we did. What could I do as a Māori wahine to contribute?”
Christine worked alongside health leaders like Riki Niania, Ann Shaw, Jan Askew, Kuini Puketapu, Nona Gaskin Ashton and Heather Roberston, and they shaped her passion for improving the health of others for the next 25 years.
After the PHU Christine was employed at Matapuna Training Centre and for a time was also a caregiver at a rest home. Then she found work at Tūranga Health as a drug and alcohol educator.
“This was the first Māori organisation I had worked for and it felt great. When I was at the PHU I found it difficult to help non-Māori understand the extra challenges and cultural layers facing whānau. Now I was somewhere there was an understanding.”
If someone told her to “visit Uncle Charlie on Papatu Rd,” she didn’t need a database to tell her who he was or whether she was going to be able to help him. “My whakapapa meant I already had a foot in the door.”
After a few contract changes and different roles, Christine really hit her straps when she moved into the Aukati Kaipaipa smokefree programme championing kaupapa Māori-based approaches to smokefree lifestyles. The programmes demanded unique ways of working with individuals and groups. Christine and her colleagues visited people in their homes, hosted quit programmes at workplaces, and encouraged sports teams to become smokefree. As a former smoker she could relate to the challenges and she was good at her job.
These days Christine works with Vanessa Lowndes Centre staff helping them with the skills they need to live independently. She will often be in the centre’s huge catering kitchen helping whānau learn to cook for themselves.
It was in this kitchen, during the Level 4 and 3 Covid-19 lockdown that Christine and colleague Nyoka Fox made a huge difference to hundreds around the rohe.
The pair created well over 1500 meals for delivery to whānau in need. Christine was grateful to chief executive Reweti Ropiha for laying down the challenge and giving her and Nyoka space to manage it how they saw best.
Christine says during the chaos there were some amusing times. For example, she and Nyoka would debate who would do the huge shops at Pak ’Save. They weren’t scared of Covid. “Nah, that was fine. It’s just that when Māori see Māori with a huge shopping trolley, they naturally assume someone has passed. All the way around I would get asked “who is the tangihanga for?”
With New Zealand now operating at lower lockdown levels Christine has found time to spend more time with her granddaughter Araia and pursue her other loves.
“If I wasn’t in health, I would be a fashion designer,” she says. With that, Christine pulls an impeccably made mustard coloured Covid mask featuring gold trim. “The ultimate in mask evening wear!”
Chief executive Reweti Ropiha isn’t surprised at anything Christine says or does. “She’s got the desire and the intent to always do well. Her approach is innovative and about the people. She has a lot of connections in the community and a good understanding of everyone. Congratulations on your 20 years Christine.”
Saying it like it is! Classic quotes from Nogs
On Aunty Jacinda: “Now there’s a leader who has actually taken the time to lift the mat and vacuum underneath.”
On holiday travel once husband Mike stopped needing to get out for a smoke: “Turns out it doesn’t take seven hours to get to Shannon!”
On Turanga Health: “There’s something good going on here. It’s about time services are provided by Māori for Māori.”
On health promotion: “To succeed it’s about 80 percent preparation, 20 percent presentation.”
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