A controversial fund designed to empower disadvantaged families has given some Canterbury families "the opportunity to dream". NICOLE MATHEWSON reports.
Alex Tuira's family realised they needed to make things better for the youngest generation.
With some members in prison and many in debt, the whanau began holding informal hui last year to determine how they could improve their fortunes.
The whanau, which extended to more than 100 people across the upper South Island, received $5000 from Whanau Ora's Whanau Innovation, Integration and Engagement (WIIE) Fund - a scheme designed to help families work out what their goals were and how they could realise them.
The money was spent on family hui, paying for a venue, food and a facilitator to help ensure the meetings remained on topic.
The whanau developed a plan to reduce their debt and create business opportunities. They also decided they wanted to help other families in need.
Tuira, who works as an adult educator in prisons, helped the whanau develop a te reo Maori-based language and financial literacy and numeracy programme, He Pataka Reo Matua.
The programme was piloted at Christchurch Men's Prison this year, with 12 remand prisoners attending the intensive workshops over 10 weeks.
"The feedback was amazing. We had this guy who was misbehaving in the unit. All the guards had had enough of him. He comes on to our programme and he had a complete turnaround in his behaviour," Tuira said.
The programme was not restricted to Maori, and Tuira is negotiating with the Department of Corrections to expand it next year.
Prison manager John Roper said prisoners and staff noted marked improvements in prisoners after the pilot.
With Corrections aiming to reduce reoffending rates by 25 per cent by 2017, it was important for the department to look at programmes that could make a "real difference", he said.
Te Waipounamu (South Island) Regional Leadership Group chairwoman Gabrielle Huria said the programme was an example of how Whanau Ora and the WIIE Fund could empower families to do better.
The scheme could be seen as "risky", and risk was something "the Government will never be comfortable with", she said.
"But it could be seen as trying a different approach because the other ways don't seem to work. [If] you keep doing the same things in New Zealand, you'll get the same outcomes.
"This is an aspirational initiative that is trying to make change in our country."
Huria said New Zealand's population was expected to have more Pacific and Asian people than Pakeha within 40 years.
"If the Maori and Pacific population is as unskilled and unhealthy as it is now, the country will be in big trouble," she said.
About 33,000 people around the country have benefited from Whanau Ora since it was established in 2010.
Huria said there had been "one or two idiots", but the scheme had a "tight filter" for applications.
Last month, Mongrel Mob member Korrey Teeati Cook was jailed for four years on dishonesty and supplying cannabis charges.
Police recorded the 36-year-old telling associates the Dunedin chapter was a model for other branches to get Whanau Ora funding, which it used to run the We Against Violence Trust.
NZ First leader Winston Peters has been Whanau Ora's loudest critic, describing it as a "bro- ocracy" and waste of money used to fund family reunions.
He said there were plenty of other cases where people had misused the funding.
However, Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia said the Cook case was isolated, and she defended the scheme's accountability.
Huria said there were many examples of families doing good with the support they received.
"They're achieving their dreams. They're doing extremely well. They're a real asset to this country. In an ideal world, that's where we'd like all our families to be heading," she said.
"It's actually given people the opportunity to dream and plan, going from 'Can I pay the power bill?' to what they want for their family in 10 years."
Her only criticism was that other government agencies were "coming to the table but not really offering anything".
"My statement to them would be get off your monoliths and get on board."
Figures released to The Press show the WIIE fund has granted $815,000 to 20 Canterbury projects since 2010.
The money included $120,000 to Pacific Trust Canterbury to help develop 20 fanau (family) plans.
Another $100,000 went to He Oranga Pounamu to implement a financial planning toolkit for families, and it received a further $110,000 to help provide emergency social support to vulnerable Maori whanau after the Canterbury earthquakes.
Only two Canterbury projects had been declined WIIE funding, with one withdrawn by applicant Tupuna Whenua until it had set up a legal entity to hold the funds. It has yet to approach Te Puni Kokiri to reactivate the project. The other application, from a member of a Canterbury whanau, did not meet the funding criteria.
Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer said individual projects were not evaluated but were monitored for the plans being completed.
The Maori development agency undertook regular evaluations of its own funding programmes though, he said.
However, a review in September found the fund was not ready to be properly evaluated as its processes were "still evolving".
Whanau Ora support is available to anyone who meets the criteria, but those seeking WIIE funds need to have a legal entity or trust to manage any funds received. Each whanau can receive $5000 to develop a plan and $20,000 to implement it. The funding cannot be used on rent, salaries, buildings or vehicles, or to pay off debts, develop individual or privately owned businesses, travel overseas or for projects that benefit only an individual.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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