Memoirs of a Toi Tangata Intern

Paris King (Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) shares her experience as a Toi Tangata Growing the Puna intern. 

Ma te rongo, ka mohio;
Ma te mohio, ka marama; 
Ma te marama, ka matau;
Ma te matau, ka ora. 

From listening comes knowledge; 
From knowledge comes understanding; 
From understanding comes wisdom; 
From wisdom comes well-being. 

This proverb captures the essence of the journey I am on in just four lines. Now 22 years of age and on a unique path of my own, I continue to be blessed with opportunities where I have been able to learn from and draw on the knowledge of others in order to begin to understand the complexities of our health care systems and understand how they might be improved. As an up-and-coming health professional, I too seek to address the devastating statistics – whereby Māori continue to have the worst health inequality of any group. 

My passion for health stemmed from my early childhood. At just five years old I saw my nan deteriorate as she battled breast cancer. Eventually passing away in 2005, my nan was a creative, kind, brave, and loving lady with a beautiful spirit.  Her loss is still felt greatly. Even at such a young age, I distinctly remember the impact that health professionals and palliative care staff had on aiding us in such a devastating time in our lives, and the grief that followed. 

At ten years old, I became my mum’s little ‘sidekick’ when she was a practising LMC. I would meet many hapū women and their whānau. I was privileged to be included in these women’s journeys through pregnancy and witness the joy of new life. The beauty of life and new beginnings was a beautiful part of my mum’s career, but I was also not oblivious to the harsh realities of the world and became increasingly more aware that not all pregnancies gave rise to a healthy mother and child. I also began to realise that not all babies would be born into a world of equal opportunities. The discrepancies in healthcare and health outcomes for Māori were quickly made evident and as such, my passion for making a difference and for narrowing the disparities between non-Māori and Māori populations was ignited.

These key experiences during my childhood led me to walk a career pathway centred on health. I began my course of study through the Tu Kahika health sciences programme at the age of 18. Going to university and being provided with a whanau who collectively bring so much to this world was a blessing – years on we remain as close as ever. 

I also began a path of working alongside rangatahi when volunteering at the Ōtepoti youth space, this provided a space for youth to come to which was safe, inviting, and allowed them to freely express themselves. 

This led to a unique opportunity of becoming a part of Mana Rangatahi, where I was given the required support to begin to lead a group of students and create my very own programme, Lionhearted. This programme centred around tūākana-teina relationships and aimed to provide struggling rangatahi with an opportunity to have a deep and meaningful relationship with an older individual in their twenties, giving them a safe person to guide them through life and create happy memories with as they navigate their youth.  This programme is very much in its infancy but is promising in that it shows signs that it will take off and gain financial backing. I am very much excited about what the future brings for this particular programme, and with the awhi I have received to date, I have no doubt that I will be able to make a difference for rangatahi with this programme going forward.

Now studying towards my Bachelor of Anatomy at the University of Otago, with eventual plans to enter the health workforce, I continue to seek out opportunities that will allow me to successfully narrow the disparities for Māori and connect with existing programmes and organisations to better the future for individuals, whānau, hapū and iwi .

This is why last year, sitting in the lecture theatre of my population health class, my interest peaked as Crystal Pekepo began to discuss her mahi at Toi Tangata, and what collectively the Toi Tangata organisation had achieved.  Sitting there I was amazed to hear of the triumphs and efforts being made across the motu and the impact that the Toi Tangata whanau collectively had in promoting hauora through many unique and effective means.

Fast forward to summer 2022, when I received an email that the Toi Tangata internship application was out and available to me. I excitedly read through the application in detail, and made my submission. The very next week I was accepted as one of the 2022 interns and began my journey working alongside some brilliant peers that I now consider whanau.

Just a short time after the initial signing of my application I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime and went off on a camping experience. Here I was immersed in my culture – many of the staff and participants being able to speak kōrero Māori fluently was truly beautiful and encouraging in my own journey; I am only just beginning my journey to learn to kōrero te reo Māori myself, and I was able to soak up so much knowledge.  Te Papa Takaro o Te Arawa looked after us so well, with plenty of kai, good kōrero and unforgettable experiences –  we were able to challenge our own minds, bodies and spirits. We walked Mt Tarawera, rode bikes through nature, went on a scenic trek through the bush and ended with a hot soak and a barbecue. We truly felt blessed and treasured memories were made that I am sure none of us will forget.

The wānanga offered a chance at self-discovery, which holds such power as I’ve discovered, navigating through life in my early twenties. I came away from the experience inspired and invigorated and began to relearn how to live in the moment. Remembering to not be weighed down by the idea of who I am supposed to be – or what I should be doing, and instead choosing to appreciate life as it comes while navigating its many twists and turns. This was a reminder to take up the opportunities that arise, to make a difference when and where I can, and choose to follow the path that brings me the greatest happiness and allows me to make the greatest impact. 

Now deeply inspired at this point in my life and enlightened by the experiences and shared knowledge at Toi Tangata, I am very optimistic and content in this internship and look forward to sharing my continued research as this internship period ends. I have and continue to enjoy this period of my life and the meaningful mahi I can contribute to daily. I am thankful for the opportunity to have a platform to share with you all as I proceed.