The journey to becoming a Toiora Whānau practitioner

November 29, 2019

While promoted as a social work degree and accredited by the Social Workers Registration Board, the Poutuarongo Toiora Whānau is much more than that.  This four year degree programme provides a uniquely Māori perspective on whānau wellness.  We caught up with Te Atawhai Maniapoto (Charmaine White) of Ngāti Tuwharetoa who is in her final year at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. 

The thought of having to learn te reo Māori as part of her qualification almost put Te Atawhai off enrolling.   

“I had no te reo at all and that’s what scared me the most when signing up for the tohu,” she says. But a visit to the kura kaupapa in Dannevirke with her mokopuna changed her mind. “I realised that I needed to learn to speak Māori for my mokopuna and that if they could speak then I could too,” and so began her journey. 

Being an active church member, she says through embracing te reo Māori and iwi and hapū studies she came to realise that it was not about religion at all, but about being in touch with her own true self.  

Growing up in Porirua, she had been disconnected from her own marae and hapū and had made a point of learning mihimihi, karakia and karanga to prepare her for her return back to her whenua. 

“When you study te reo and iwi and hapū, you learn who you are, you embrace all that you are, you can’t help but start to feel loved and love yourself, and wairua works for you. As long as you stay humble,” she says. 

“Kaupapa tuku iho is an ancient way of living, when I came into my first year we were given Maōri words or the kaupapa of the Wānanga and had to reflect on them, but the kaupapa really started to come alive for me in my second year.” 

She started to realise that it was not really about her, explaining that toiora is the environment in which your whānau sit. “In the first year we looked at ourselves, in the second year we start looking at our whānau and where they are.” 

Throughout her journey Te Atawhai has been able to apply the principles she has learnt to her whānau and in year four says that the picture of her whānau is at a very different stage from where it was then. 

“You become the toiora whānau practitioner within your own whānau. This tohu teaches you that you can’t go and work on other whānau until you work on your own first."

From the first year to the final year toiora whānau students create their own Māori model of practice that are embedded within their papers. Te Atawhai explains that the main difference between social workers and toiora whānau practitioners is the inclusion of ngā taonga tuku iho in their work, this is what enables them to work with whānau and separates them from others in the same sector.  

Te Atawhai has worked in the nursing industry for the last 28 years but is keen to take what she has now learnt to help uplift whānau, hapū and iwi in her local community. 

“Iwi and hapū and reo studies go hand in hand with what you learn on the tohu, you can’t develop a Māori model of practice without having these other two components.” 

Having been through a lot herself from losing her husband to cancer, depression, self harm to sickness, Te Atawhai recommends this qualification to anyone who has a passion for helping people.   

“I think anyone who wants to make a change in peoples lives and especially those who have already made a change in their own lives on their own, without help from external organisations, will do well. Life experience is essential, but this tohu is for anyone who is willing to embrace te reo and iwi and hapū studies because it's vital for Māori, for a Māori world view and for Māori models of practice.” 

Applications are now open for 2020. 


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