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Community connections . . . South Canterbury District Health Board's new Māori Health director Joseph Tyro (right) and assistant director Kera Baker have been in their respective roles for just under a month. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

Two long-time community advocates has taken up the reins of the South Canterbury District Health Board’s Māori Health service.

Joseph Tyro and Kera Baker have been appointed in the roles of director and assistant director, respectively.

They took up their roles just over three weeks ago, following the retirement of former Māori Health director Ruth Garvin late last year.

Matua Joseph, who is originally from Ōtautahi (Christchurch), said having both a director and deputy in the role meant they could “support one another”.

“If someone receives a fantastic service they’ll share with their whānau.” – Kera Baker

This was a particularly important aspect of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), which was very collaborative and community-based.

He had seen the importance of the health system at age 8, when he had supported his grandmother – who raised him and his sister – undergo cancer treatment.

“She said we helped her through her journey.”

A few years later, in his early teens, he became involved with a youth council in Christchurch after several friends lost their lives to suicide.

“I had a lot of good friends pass away at that time.”

This “spurred” him into action to help out in his community, where he began helping out on youth camps and in other initiatives to encourage his peers out of the circles of violence, addiction and bad mental health.

“That’s what got me into this work.”

“[I am] very passionate about community.”

Matua Joseph then spent several years working for the Canterbury District Health Board following his graduation with a masters degree in social work, as it was where his grandmother had worked.

“[I decided] to go to hospital to be in her wairua (spirit).”

He then moved south just under a month ago to take up the new role.

Whaea Kera, on the other hand, grew up “on marae” at Arowhenua and had remained working in the area.

Her background includes more than 40 years working in hospitality, then social services, and she was also involved with the Ara Polytechnic merger.

Timaru Hospital

She has spent several years on various Māori governance boards on behalf of the Arowhenua rohe (area), including a former role as the deputy chairwoman of Arowhenua Whānau Services.

The pair both believed in the importance of equity of Māori health, particularly around continuing and improving cultural competency of service providers in the SCDHB, Whaea Kera said.

“If someone receives a fantastic service they’ll share with their whānau.”

She said while there was “always” room for improvement, the health board and its services were going “from strength to strength” – starting meetings with karakia (prayers) and waiata (songs).

They had also begun work to connect with all Māori around South Canterbury, Matua Joseph said.

Their work was about connecting the SCDHB with the community and vice versa.

This demonstrated the importance of connecting with Māori from Arowhenua, Waihao and Te Aitarakihi marae, as well as other Maata Waka (Māori from other marae outside of the trio of South Canterbury) living in the region.

It was about providing a voice for Māori in the region, about giving a “voice to voiceless” and making the “unseen seen”, he said.