He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
For Rere Toru the core of her work people. Rere discusses her journey to becoming a Social Worker in CM Health's Fanau Ola team.
Immigrating to New Zealand in 1988 from Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Rere’s decision to change careers came later in life after an experience foster caring in 2014.
Her time fostering influenced her to pursue social work in the hopes of being the ‘child’s voice’ for children who cannot advocate for themselves.
“I was made redundant and renting a 3-bedroom home at the time. I had space available, and I thought, why not foster and open my home to someone who needs help.”
“My passion is helping people, and when your fostering, you see a lot of gaps in the system. I always wanted to study, and it was a perfect time,” she says.
Almost at the finish line to get her degree in her final paper, Rere’s mother became a renal patient and was severely sick.
“I wasn’t going to pursue this job. I’d rather stay home and look after her. The day of my interview, she was in ICU fighting for her life. When she pulled through, I told her I won’t take this job. She stopped me and told me to stay. Six months later, she passed away 26 December 2020,” she says.
Finishing her studies in the middle of a global pandemic, Rere graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Social Work from Manukau Institute of Technology. Once a teen mum at 15, Rere has a daughter who is now grown and studying to be a teacher in early childhood.
“My daughter sees if I can make it, then she can too. Age is not an obstacle if you put your mind to it,” says Rere.
Honouring her mother’s wish to continue, Rere works hard to advocate and empower patients. Common issues the team sees are GP disengagement, lack of education, and cultural differences. The Fanau Ola team is critical in bridging understanding for their patients.
“Sometimes we assume the patient is disengaged, but it’s my job to unpack that. We look deeper at what’s working and what we’ve missed. That is how we fill the gap,” says Rere.
The increasing demand for food parcels and the continued struggle to connect families with emergency housing has seen a new set of challenges come up while working in COVID-19.
Rere has learned to think outside the box working from a holistic approach trying to link patients to the wider community and within their whaanau using the concept of uriuri kite (shared vision).
While it’s a tough job, Rere is grateful to have the opportunity to work with her Cook Island people. Using her language and beliefs to support them in a system they’re often intimidated by.
“People show their gratitude by sharing kai or whatever’s on their table, and I feel blessed by them when I help. It’s very rewarding. You may not change the whole world, but I know I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”