Whanaungatanga at the heart of Honeybeez Preschool

24 May 2023

When Marlena Bunnage is greeted by tamariki at Honeybeez Preschool they give her a wave and say, “Kia ora, Whaea.”

The Māori term is commonly used as a sign of respect for in schools, but for Marlena, who works at the Kaiapoi-based preschool as a kaiwhakatere (navigator) supporting tamariki and their whānau, it’s a badge of honour she wears with pride.

“We’re one big whānau. We support each other, and my job is to be there for them when times get tough,” she says.

Marlena has been working at Honeybeez Preschool since 2020. Her role was created in response to a “growing need” for someone to walk alongside whānau, helping them to achieve their future dreams and aspirations.

Preschool owner-operator Jasmyn Pihema says the role is similar to a Whānau Ora navigator, but instead of being based within a health provider, it is at the preschool, tapping into existing relationships with whānau who need support.

Whanaungatanga is at the heart of everything we do at Honeybeez, and with that comes strong connections with the community. We wanted to capture the honesty that’s been shared with us by whānau, rather than simply passing a card on to a specialist that might be able to help. In Waimakariri it’s really hard to find connections as Māori, so this is about bridging that gap.

Marlena Bunnage

Bringing whānau together

Recently, Marlena has been bringing the community together through .

“The kaupapa gets so heavy sometimes, I felt we needed a way to bring whānau together in a real strength-based, positive way. I love the arts, including mahi toi and . They bring me enjoyment, and I wanted to share that joy with others,” says Marlena.

Marlena says she teaches through a te ao Māori lens, and that helps whānau reconnect with their cultural identity.

“Recently, we’ve been using art to learn about atua wāhine (Māori goddesses). Using needle felting, we each had a go at creating Hinepūtehue, goddess of the (gourd) wind instrument.”

Marlena says supporting whānau to build connections is yet another benefit.

“At one stage I had a group of kaumātua come along. They’d sit alongside the teenagers and just laugh for a couple of hours. That, in itself, is huge, because, for that moment in time it gives everyone a chance to relax and not think about life’s stressors for a while,” says Marlena.

Honey Beez Preschool & Nursery (transcript)

A growing need

Bringing Marlena into the role has been a “huge success”, says Jasmyn.

Through connections with Karanga Mai Young Parents College and Te Kura o Tuahiwi, both based in Kaiapoi, Marlena has been able to help a growing number of whānau Māori. She often acts as their voice if they don't have the courage, skills or confidence to connect with other organisations that provide support.

“Every year it’s just gotten bigger,” says Marlena.

“More people are hearing about us and, as the cost of living keeps getting higher, the need is growing.”

Do you have a great idea?

This community project was made possible with support from the Tākai Local Initiative Fund. Get in touch if you have a great idea to make positive change for whānau in your community.

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