June 25, 2024

Prioritising health and wellbeing within Pasifika congregations

For Pasifika whānau, churches are the heart of the community delivering far more than spirituality.  Alongside religious worship, they provide valuable social interaction, sport and recreational activities, and valuable health and education services.

Recognising the integral role of the church in Pasifika communities, Healthy Families Waitākere has been supporting church leaders to help influence health and wellbeing across Pasifika congregations in West Auckland.

Pasifika churches provide a place to connect, nurture, support and care for each other, explains Ruta Tonumaivao, Pacific Systems Innovator for Healthy Families Waitākere.

“Connecting with our Pasifika church leaders has the potential to reach a significant number of Pasifika families across West Auckland. By weaving health outcomes with spiritual and cultural connections, we are working together to strengthen a deeper understanding of the importance of chronic illness and health in general, and ultimately promoting Soifua Maloloina Lelei (Good Health),” says Tonumaivao.

Healthy Families Waitākere has been working alongside leaders from a number of West Auckland churches, including the Independent Samoan AOG Church NZ, with a congregation of more than 200 worshippers.

The journey started with valuable talanoa (discussion) with Pastor Charles Fruean to establish vā fealoai, learn about the vision of the church, values, and whakaaro about the connections of faaleagaga (spiritual) and mea tau soifua maloloina le faaletino (physical health).

This included seeking permission to gather insights from congregation members about their current health conditions.  With Pastor Fruean’s blessing, Healthy Families Waitākere supported leaders of Sunday School, the worship team, Mafutaga Tina (women’s group) and Mafutaga Tama (men’s group) to co-design a church activity to capture insights from the church community.

Findings from the insights gathering, which utilised the Hautu Waka approach (a navigational framework rooted in mātauranga Māori), led to formation of a Health Komiti (committee).  With a representative from each generation, expertise within the komiti includes indigenous food systems practitioners, weavers, musicians, Gagana Samoa and Aganu’u (language and customs) experts, digital creators, educators, and Samoan movement experts covering siva (dance) and fa’amalosi tino (exercise).

The Health Komiti subsequently co-designed two key health initiatives, around minoi (movement) and food systems practice – with both informed by insights gathered from the wider church community.

“The Minoi initiative encompasses physical movement and family health activities to suit all abilities, building on intergenerational knowledge exchange of spiritual, cultural knowledge and language through storytelling, songs, dance and games,” explains Tonumaivao.

“It also extends to development of ‘Minoi’ Samoan centric physical activity resources to capture cultural movements, songs and revitalisation of Samoan ta’aloga (games).”

Through the food systems practices, elders are sharing indigenous Samoan practices of fai faatoaga (whakatipu kai – growing kai).  This encompasses Samoan practices of harvesting food including creating storage and transportation (lalaga/weave baskets), and Samoan practices of preparing and cooking food in an umu, as well as the elders sharing cultural protocols for meals.

“It has been amazing to have a space to talanoa about our health issues, hearing from all generational perspectives, and more importantly developing solutions as a congregation that integrate our spiritual, social, and physical health,” explains Komiti Health Member, Josie Fruean.

The process of evolving health strategies for the various congregations is ongoing, with the focus set to move to shaping further co-design with other churches, building on the success to date with the Independent Samoa Assembly of God.

Healthy Families Waitākere will continue to support this process, helping to establish the essential  supports for Pacific church leaders to navigate the development of a health strategy within the spiritual realm, and ultimately improving health outcomes within their wider communities.