Wahakura Project Empowers Māori Whānau

The first participants in a programme helping to educate and support Māori whānau to provide safe sleeping spaces for their new babies will celebrate their success on Sunday 25 November.

The Whānau Ora – Raranga Wahakura Pilot Project was developed by Papakura Plunket Nurse Donna Fane to help reduce SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) rates among Māori.

“The Counties Manukau area has the highest SUDI rate within New Zealand. The Māori community SUDI rate is four-five times higher than non-Māori,” Donna says.

Her initiative is to teach the ancient skill of raranga harakeke or weaving flax to make wahakura (a unique hand-woven sleeping space or bassinette) over a four-week programme held at the Papakura Marae. The marae environment supports the intergenerational learning of tikanga (customs and traditions), whakawhanaungatanga (family connections, building relationships) and tino rangatiratanga (self-empowerment). 

“I wanted to empower whānau to create their own pathway to whānau ora or wellbeing. By teaching them how to weave they have an opportunity to think about how they are preparing to welcome their new pepi into the world, while producing a wahakura that is unique and reflects the aspirations of the whānau.”

Counties Manukau Health has supported the project and will present the 13 graduates with bedding for their wahakura at a graduation ceremony on Sunday.

“Counties Manukau Health is committed to reducing the incidence of SUDI which disproportionately affects our Māori and Pacific whānau. We have a number of initiatives taking place to effectively reduce the incidence of SUDI; two of which are the provision of safe sleep beds and incentivising being smoke free during and after pregnancy,” SUDI Prevention Programme Manager Tina Higgins says.

“We are really pleased to support the wahakura project as it allows time for reconnection and re-engagement in traditional Māori customs and practices for whānau, making it unique and special.”

Plunket Clinical Services Manager Gay Ford says the project has been successful and empowering for the women.

“Plunket nurses support whānau in various ways and Donna’s project gives whānau the opportunity to experience something special, alongside nurturing parental support and health messages.

“The synergy in the group is amazing. The women are proud of what they have achieved so far and can’t wait to begin making their own wahakura. The wahakura is a taonga which represents whānau, aroha, wairua, and Māori holistic health. It also represents SUDI prevention and responsible parenting.

“We recognise it takes a village to raise a child, and this project aims to give holistic support to the mother and whānau through creating a positive cultural connectedness,” Gay says.

The graduation takes place at 2pm on Sunday at the Papakura Marae, with Plunket Chief Executive Amanda Malu attending, along with representatives from Counties Manukau Health.

Discussions are ongoing around future wahakura programmes.

The wahakura is a solution to providing a culturally appropriate safe-sleeping space to reduce SUDI risk. Each year about 60 babies die from SUDI in New Zealand and it is the main preventable reason for death in children under the age of one. The two major factors in SUDI are maternal smoking in pregnancy and bed-sharing.

A National Safe Sleep day is being held on 7 December.

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For more details please contact Plunket Clinical Services Manager Gay Ford 027 543 0420 or Plunket’s media adviser: 04 460 4680 or communications@plunket.org.nz

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