Everybody thinks I’m this good daughter who’s come to look after my Dad, but I think he sort of saved me as well,” Charlotte Hakaraia smiles.
She was contemplating retirement from her public service job in Wellington around the time her stepmother died, leaving Charlotte’s father, Herbie Whittaker, in need of a carer.
It was a life changing decision that Charlotte hasn’t regretted. Almost three years on, she and 93-year-old Herbie, who is blind and has Parkinson’s disease, are enjoying life at the Moa Crescent Kaumātua Village in Hamilton.
Moa Crescent is a joint initiative between Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa’s housing foundation, Nga Rau Tatangi, and the Rauawaawa Kaumātua Trust. The second of its two complexes totalling 14 purpose-built units, opened in 2013.
It was designed on a papakainga (village) model to create a supportive communal environment for the residents, with the nearby Trust – which has almost 700 local kaumātua on its database – providing them with wraparound health and social services.
At 67, Charlotte is one of Moa Crescent’s ‘spring chickens’.
“It’s a lovely way of living. We all take care of each other as much as we can,” says Charlotte, who cooks a regular Sunday lunch for two of their neighbours.
“The people in our complex come over here to say hello and have a yarn,” adds Herbie. “They’re nice and very concerned about each other.”
Moa Crescent folk have their own walking group, albeit the usual walk being a circuit of the nearby bowling club. In summer, the central courtyard gazebo is the scene of shared celebrations, fierce card games and much laughter. Come winter, it’s housie indoors.
“Because I don’t get out as much as I used to with looking after Dad, it’s like a night out,” Charlotte says. “I can run across the road for a game of housie and still know he’s safe.”
Activities at the Rauawaawa Trust are important to Herbie, Charlotte and their Moa Crescent neighbours. Charlotte joined a korowai weaving class, one of a range of popular classes offered by the Trust. In addition to classes, many of which are taught by kaumātua to younger people as a way of passing on cultural traditions, there’s a gym and a series of events promoted by the Trust such as the Kaumātua Olympics, the Kaumātua ball and the hotly contested Kaumātua Idol competition.
As well as the safety that living in a community linked to essential services provides, there is the emotional wellbeing that comes from having security of tenure in their rented unit. Herbie and Charlotte have no time for feeling depressed or lonely.
“We certainly don’t get bored here,” says Herbie, as he pats their small dog, Toby.
The most anticipated day of the week is Friday – ‘Kotahitanga’ day at Rauawaawa. On that day the Trust’s common room bursts at the seams with a lively bunch of kaumātua and kuia excitedly swapping news, singing lustily to the strains of a not-so-young band, participating somewhat less enthusiastically in a round of physical exercises, before adjourning to the wharekai for a healthy lunch.
“We try and get involved with everything Rauawaawa has to offer,” Charlotte says. Herbie still has a fine singing voice and is a big country and western fan. In fact he and Charlotte were placed third and voted as the ‘People’s Choice’ in last year’s Kaumātua Idol contest.
Rauawaawa’s Nurse Manager and a welcomed visitor at Moa Crescent is Kath Holmes (pictured above with Charlotte and Herbie). She has seen some real turnarounds in people’s lives as a result of their connection with the Trust.
“If people are not interacting with others then the loneliness and depression really do set in,” she says.
For Kath, one of the most satisfying aspects of her job is seeing the overall wellness among kaumātua on a Friday.
“I’ve seen lots of friendships develop. New people might link up with a long lost cousin or someone they know from their area. From a cultural point of view that’s really important,” she says.
And from the perspective of a mere 40 years of age, she often finds herself looking around the room and thinking: ‘Who and what do I want to be like when I’m that age? And what have they done in their journey to lead up to where they are now?’”
“You’re only as old as you feel,” laughs Charlotte. “And I sometimes wonder how old Dad thinks he is when he gets down there on a Friday!”
This story is part of a series exploring different living arrangements for seniors. The Going it together series is one way the Mental Health Foundation helps people prepare for a later life that has meaning, purpose and joy.