Rachel Panapa

Māori Health and Well-being champion at Purapura Whetu
Bachelor of Sports Coaching, 2015

Rachel Panapa

Wellbeing Warrior.

In her role with mental health organisation Purapura Whetu, Rachel Panapa creates programmes that encourage social and physical participation based on a whanau ora perspective. It’s a position that enables Rachel to blend the two things she loves most, her organisational skills and working with people. “I’m honoured to be part of my clients’ journey towards well-being. It's great having a job that will not only grow me as a person, but have a future impact on what I do."

You’re in your first job out of uni. Tell us about that!

I’m working for Purapura Whetu, which is a Māori based mental health organization. We work from a Kaupapa Māori perspective, so we integrate Maori philosophies into our treatment and try to make our clients feel more connected to their Māori side. It’s less clinical than what you get from mainstream mental health organisations. We take a whanau ora perspective, so we work not just with clients but with their families as well.

What’s your role there?

My role is Whanau Ora Coordinator. I organise and plan programs that provide social interaction and get clients out into the community. That could be things like waka ama, yoga, volunteering or learning Maori cultural activities like weaving. It’s about finding ways for our clients to connect with others and implement their Māori culture.

What does a typical day look like for you?

First thing in the morning I usually do paperwork or might set up the classroom for an activity. Then mid-morning I go pick up the clients, take them to the activity and then drop them back home. Each term I plan out new activities based on feedback we get about what’s right for the wellbeing of each individual.

What do you like best about your job?

I love seeing the impact we have on our clients. A client who starts with us might not like being around people at all, then grow to the point where they’re out there doing their own thing, holding down a job, being part of the community and even helping out other clients. I enjoy seeing them overcoming the stigma of mental illness. I’m very honoured to be part of people’s journey to their wellbeing.

And what's the most challenging part?

Dealing with high needs clients is tough at times. Listening to their stories and hearing about what they’ve been through can be quite draining emotionally. You have to be able to separate yourself from the job.

Did UC prepare you well for the ‘real world’?

Yes, it did. At UC I learned skills that I use everyday in my job, like organisational skills, communication skills, professionalism and knowledge of physical activity. I walked away from uni being able to implement really strong life skills into my working practice.

How else did your time at UC contribute to where you are today?

As part of my degree I did an internship with the CDHB. That allowed me to build a network with people from that organisation. I run into those same people now and it’s good knowing them already. Another thing I took away from uni was the ability to take in new knowledge. I’ve come into my role at Purapura Whetu without much background in mental health, so being able to take up new learning opportunities has been really valuable.

Looking back, what was your favourite thing about your time at UC?

Meeting new people, gaining new knowledge, growing as an adult and having fun! I remember feeling scared going into uni. I didn’t think I would be able to do it. But I gave it a go and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out at uni?

Definitely give it a go. Stick at it, it’s totally worth it in the end. And enjoy your time there. Savour the experience of being a uni student. I loved going to UC. I’m always proud to say that I went there. Now that I’m out, I really miss it!

It sounds like you’ve found the right fit for you at Purapura Whetu.

I enjoy the balance of organisational responsibilities and people contact. The feedback I get is really rewarding. My clients are constantly telling me, “you’re doing a great job!” But what I like best is when I can see them enjoying what they’re doing, rather than trying to praise me. I like making a difference for others. It’s a great having a job that will not only grow me as a person, but have a future impact on what I want to do.