A DEEPENING friendship between a Turanga Health kaiāwhina and a Manutuke whānau is helping the oldest and most unwell member of the family to laugh again.
Anita Nepia, Rongowhakaata, Ngati Porou, is rediscovering the joys of a social life outside of her Manutuke home this year with the wraparound support of Turanga Health mental health kaiāwhina Nyoka Fox.
Anita, 64, has been living with schizophrenia for 30 years. Like many others with the disease Anita experiences some challenges caring for herself, and she hasn’t worked for a number of years. Anita has been lucky to always have the support of family and friends. She lives with sister Katy Nepia, and her nephew Terry Nepia.
But recently whānau have noticed that Anita, who is a wahine of few words, had become even quieter than normal.
“Anita was staying home, lying around,” says Terry, 27. “She was quiet and not laughing as much.”
Māori health organisation Turanga Health was already involved in Anita’s care but asked if they could do more? And that’s where mental health kaiāwhina Nyoka Fox came in.
“It wasn’t until Nyoka arrived that I started noticing a difference in her,” says Terry.
Previously, Nyoka, Rongowhakaata, was a kaiāwhina and then coordinator at the Vanessa Lowndes Centre providing day programmes for people living with mental health, physical and intellectual disabilities.
A wahine of many talents (she used to be a driver operator for Downer) Noyka has a level 4 certifcate in health and wellbeing with a strand in mental health and addiction support from EIT Tairāwhiti.
Nyoka first met Anita at her Manutuke home in March 2021. “When I first connected with Anita she was isolated. She wasn’t going out anywhere so the goal at the start was simply to create a relationship.”
Nyoka shared her own Rongowhakaata whakapapa with Anita making those vital whānau and hapu connections. Slowly, quietly spoken Anita began to trust that Nyoka was offering genuine support and help. “After that she’s really opened up more,” says Nyoka.
The pair’s friendship has strengthened over time spent together. They are in the car a lot as they travel to doctor’s appointments and the monthly Turanga Health Kaumātua Programme. They also go out for lunch if they feel like having a treat.
“She’s a lot smilier now,” says Nyoka. “A bit more talkative. She’s not as shy or holding back. There has definitely been a change. It’s about having someone to walk beside, someone who doesn’t necessarily have to be family.”
Laughter is important in the pair’s relationship. Catch them together and they’ll often be chuckling. “I think they might be laughing at me?” worries Terry. “No. No. That’s our secret,” Anita whispers, before falling into another fit of giggles.
Last month Nyoka helped Anita get her Covid-19 vaccination. And she escorted her to the Howard Morrison Quartet concert for pakeke from around the rohe.
This week Nyoka is going to teach Anita how to answer her new cellphone and enrol her into a local arts and craft programme.
Nyoka: “It’s important for Anita’s wellbeing that she’s connected to the scoial community, and to whānau.”
Despite her quiet nature, Anita’s admiration for Nyoka is unmistakable.
“We’ve got our own thing happening. Riding around. I would just like to thank Nyoka for everything she has done for me.”
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