Spotlight on Pūniu River Care

23 Aug 2022

Pūniu River Care (PRC) is an established marae-based river care group, incorporated society and a New Zealand registered charity. The group was developed in 2015 through the four marae along the Pūniu Awa, including Mangatoatoa Pā, Rāwhitiroa Marae, Aotearoa Marae and Whakamaramara Marae.

A core value of PRC is its responsibility to give back to the Marae within the Pūniu River Catchment. Part of this responsibility is a commitment to empower staff to engage in the tikanga and kawa of each of the Marae that connect with Pūniu River.

The overall vision of Pūniu River Care is: “Safe places, healthy water, healthy people”. The kaupapa (purpose) of PRC is to enable local hapū to be involved in the environmental restoration and enhancement of the Pūniu River catchment, the wider Waipā and lower Waikato catchment areas, while providing employment and work experience opportunities for local people.

Currently, PRC employs around 45 staff, many of whom are now experienced horticulture and restoration project workers. PRC has a proven work delivery model for large scale eco-sourced native tree propagation, planting and restoration projects, with the goal of supplying 1.5 million eco- sourced native trees to restoration projects in 2022.

Here we speak to three of the 45 staff about their mahi at PRC and how much they love it.

Charmain Gauci has worked for PRC for just over two years and was attracted to her role because of the kaupapa of awa restoration.

She had undertaken a Diploma in Social Work through the Auckland Teachers Training College before her niece told her about PRC and she checked out the website: “I was hooked.”

“I totally love working for PRC!!! We create new beginnings, new life. PRC mahi and the core values, are the reason why I get out of bed every morning.”

Charmain’s typical day is full of new challenges while working alongside whānau. Her biggest surprise about the role was “getting to learn and know more about the importance and benefits of each and every native rākau.”

“Our environment has a huge impact for our health and well-being both ā tīnana (physically), ā wairua (spiritually). I wish to wholeheartedly express how privileged I am to be a part of this kaupapa and its entirety. No words can really express how being here is exceptional.”

Raymond Spooner has been a PRC Pou Taiao (Project Manager) for four years.

He was attracted to working there because of the opportunity to be involved in environmental enhancement.

Raymond, who has a Primary ITO Level 4 qualification in Production Manager – Farming, heard about PRC through friends but didn’t know anything about his role before starting.

His biggest surprise about working at PRC is the opportunity of learning to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations and embracing self-directed learning and developing.

His typical day involves a morning karakia followed by daily planning, site visits, nursery check-ins, on-going communications with internal and external colleagues and project milestone record keeping. Raymond finds his work “rewarding, challenging and uplifting all at the same time!” and likes the fact it contributes to New Zealand, especially to the success of our waterways.

“I enjoy being a part of the environmental sector and making positive steps to improve the taiao, plus having opportunities for self-improvement and development through PRC’s core values.”

In his view, the  job would “anyone with a positive attitude and good work ethic and a willingness to grow in Māori tikanga practices and the taiao.”

And his final advice to work seekers:  #LoveYourMahi, Mauri Ora!

Tumanako Hunapo has worked for PRC for five months.

He pivoted from a possible career in the building industry after undertaking a building apprenticeship to working at PRC.

What promoted this change of direction was PRC’s Kaupapa, whānau-orientated mahi and working outdoors, feeling a connection with the taiao.

Before Tumanako started in his new role, he thought the organisation was primarily just about growing and planting trees. “But I now know there’s a whole lot more to Pūniu River Care where a big emphasis is growing the people and empowering us to move on to bigger and better things.

“Coming to mahi, doesn’t actually feel I’m coming to mahi. It feels like a hobby in doing something I enjoy doing and I love working outdoors with the team!.”

He typically begins the day at 7am with whakarite / karakia before loading plants onto trailers, heading out to site, laying plants out then planting them. There is a quality control check of the site before everyone heads back to base (the marae-based nursery) for the end of day whakarite / karakia at 4:30pm

His biggest surprise about the role is “how closely related everyone is to one another, once we get to know each other more. It feels secure like having a second family.”

He loves the fact his job “provides a reconnection for whānau, back to their ancestral river and is providing kai for the return of native birds in abundance.”



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