When I serve, I carry my whanau. As Pasifika, we move as a collective

Melanie Arai, the Clinical Lead in Social Work at Kidz First Child Development, is a first-generation New Zealand Born Cook Islander. Growing up in Otara, she is proud to serve her community.

"When I serve in my role, I don't just carry myself. I carry my whanau. As Pasifika, we move as a collective," says Melanie.

Melanie is proud to be in a leadership role and represent her culture, as the Cook Islands are a minority in the Pacific nations.

At 30 years old, she decided it was time to forge a new path after working at a contact centre for ten years. Led by her passion for helping people, Melanie earned a Bachelor of Applied Social Work at M.I.T.

"We have tamariki with disabilities and complex medical needs, so I need to understand the diagnosis to help walk the whanau through their journey."

Diagnoses included Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, Autism, ADHD and physical disabilities. 

Working at Kidz First Child Development, Melanie says one of the challenges is trying to help whaanau that are disengaged. For some, they need help understanding health literacy.

"On a personal level, I can empathise with them. My parents are from the villages of Rakahanga and Manihiki and moved here in the 80s.

"Mum had a brother with cerebral palsy, and they felt he'd get more support in New Zealand. Part of me taking this job with Kidz First is a way to honour my late uncle."

Because of the complex nature of cases, Melanie says, small wins can make the biggest steps.

"A small win can be gaining the trust of a family who shares their trauma and are open to change."

When asked to share advice for a young Pacific person interested in Social work, her answer was this: 

"We say in the Cook Islands, "ko'ai koe," which means Who are you? 

"You have to know yourself first before you can work with others." 

Social work can have hard days, so be connected and strong in who you are. For Melanie, part of her connection is through 'Akapapa'anga, your genealogy of where you come from. 

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pacific health

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