This is what the daily struggle of life looks like and what we can all do about it.
Life in Aotearoa is a game of two halves. By that I mean those who are doing ok and those who are struggling when it comes to every day of life. But; when you peer beneath the polished veneer and open the door to the homes of every day New Zealanders homes, both Maori and non-Maori, the picture we like to paint is not great. IN many cases we do this thing of trying to keep up with jones, so people don’t really know just how tough we are doing it. We don’t want people to know because we often don’t like how they may see us least we smash the window into our lives.
In Tauranga recently I sat down for coffee with a middle aged Pakeha couple. Dave (name changed) had been made redundant from his white-collar consulting role about a year ago and he typically though it was going to be easier for him to get work relatively quickly. He and his wife Lucy planned to pay the credit cards off, reduce their debt and reduce the mortgage. But that never happened because he wasn’t able to find a job. Today he remains unemployed and only able to pick up the odd consulting job. The redundancy ran out four months ago and just covered around eight months of what they would have had to have paid anyway – the every day bills like power and gas, the phone, put food on the table, gas in the car and the keeping up with the mortgage. Last month they extended their overdraft but because of their low income they were turned down. Their two children don’t get to go on school excursions and when they do it’s a real struggle to get them there – the stationary list isn’t always filled for the beginning of the school year sometimes Dave and Lucy don’t eat dinner. Lucy says to me “the flip side Matt is I know how to make the most out of the food we buy that I can stretch to cover a good week”.
In Auckland I sat down with Cheryl (not her real name). Cheryl is Maori, 58 years old and heading towards retirement. She is unemployed, lives in a two-bedroom home in West Auckland and looks after her two moko’s. Caleb is six and Mika is nine. Their parents are both in jail and Cheryl has stepped in to look after her moko’s after, she tells me, “the worst start to life to little kiddies could have. Mum was an ice addict and Dad was not much better – but its my son and I cannot let my moko’s be looked after by strangers. I stepped in because as much as I am angry with that boy my moko’s have not done anything wrong”. She goes on to tell me that she also hopes that when they get out, they will be able to come home and “we can all be a family again”. Cheryl gave up her two part time jobs to look after her moko’s and as she tells me what’s been happening she pauses and cries. The situation at home is amplified by her daily struggles of trying to find the money to look after her grandchildren at a point of her life where she never expected to be. Her daughter tells me “mum always goes last for kai. She shops at the op’s shops for clothes and she can’t afford to go to the doctors and her scripts her filled”. Cheryl is both proud and confused. She doesn’t want to put her burden on anyone else and confused about what sort of help she can get. She cries herself to sleep most nights but when the moko’s need something she will move heaven and earth. Most of all she is worried for her boy. “I know people will see him as being stupid and bad – but I need him to be helped so he can be the father I want him to be.”
Then there is Edith (not her real name). Edith is 76 and living in Whangarei. Her husband passed away three years ago, and she tells me that his tangi was “well attended” and that she as so happy to see the whanau all come back. Edith’s whanau moved away a long time ago, all of them living in different parts of Australia. She gets to see them living their lives on Facebook and speaks to them by phone. But it’s the same she says; “I’m really lonely Matt. I get up early in the morning at 5am and have my cup of tea. I turn on the radio and then I try and figure out what I am doing that day. My friends have started to pass on and the kids and moko’s live in Australia”. She laughs and tells me “I watch my soaps but that’s a few hours. So, I turn on the talkback and make up names to dial in and korero”. Edith and Hone were married for more than forty years and around the lounge is the good old china cabinet stacked with teacups and the “good stuff” Edith tells me. There are photos of whanau all around. But Edith tells me, the house is always “silent” and “knocks on the door” have become fewer and fewer. She tries to get involved in the local Marae and community, but she tells me that “no one wants to listen to an old Maori lady.” Most of all she is now frightened to die alone and not be found.
Across the nation these stories are repeated time and time again. The struggles that people go through often occur behind closed doors and in silence. I often ask myself how did it all come to this when around us we are told that things could not be better. The economy is going well, and life is good in New Zealand. The truth and reality are that for many of our people, our whanau, our neighbors life is pretty tough for a range of different reasons and yet each of the struggles is preventable. From opening up and seeking help and support and not being afraid of the risk of being judged and for those doing the listening to listen without judgement. The need to feel loved and connected can only be so if we ourselves connect, check in and knock on those doors of our neighbors and whanau – even if that means putting a little hoha aside of things that may have happened in the past.
For my part Dave is now in work – we sat down and mapped out a new career plan. It took some changes in thinking from Dave and Lucy about what a career posts the other one looked like and while he might be earning less its still double what they were earning through benefits and supplements. We had a korero with the banks and finance companies and they now have a consolidated debt with a single institution to stop the robbing peter to pay Paul hamster wheel.
A quick phone call to some contact within the Justice system helped to put Cheryl’s mind at rest about the rehabilitation both her son and daughter in law were getting. It’s now up to them to take the next step and get off the gear. A few phone calls to social services and Cheryl now knows more about other financial support she can access. A program in Auckland that assist with oral health for the unemployed has a new patient and while Cheryl still shops at the op shops (which she assures me she loves and has been doing for a long time) she’s added about another 20% to her household income. It helps with the “kai” a lot more.
And then there is Edith. Edith and I actually have a lot in common. We love the horses and she love the fact I am a former talkback radio host. I ring her Wednesday mornings at 7am on the dot. We korero about nothing and everything but, most of all, it’s a connection. Edith is a real card. I tell her what my picks are for the races on the weekend and she tells me that I’ll lose my money (even though it’s usually only a 50m cent boxed trifecta). Edith tells me hers. A few months into our little regular chats Edith now has three people a week she talks to – one of them an old friend from her school days.
We spent a day setting her Facebook page up and she tells me she now has hundreds of new friends across the world. She tells me that it doesn’t matter what the time is there is always someone online to talk with.
The point I am trying to make of course is that often a conversation, listening ear and taking time out of your busy day can have a huge impact on someone else’s life. In those moments, those moments of listening, you can often figure out a way of doing something, of acting. We don’t always have to think we need to do something big or great – because often small acts of kindness are the very things that can have the greatest impact.
So – get out their people and shift that dial.
Matthew Tukaki is the former Head of global recruitment company, Drake International, Chair of Suicide Prevention Australia and Managing Director of Babana Employment