The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle was devastating to many communities from Te Tai Tokerau to Hawke's Bay, but the emphasis on kai sovereignty – cultivation, harvesting, preparation and delivery – that is leading to long-term resilience and better health for the kaumātua and rangatahi of Rongomaiwahine.

He Kai Kei Aku Ringa, a programme developed by Te Rākatō Marae and Te Ruruku Pā, revives mātauranga practices focused on whānau producing their own kai, promoting wellbeing and health as well as resilience.

The programme's name literally means 'kai being in your own hands', but also speaks to the potential of whānau to find wellbeing and connection through self-determination, says programme coordinator Chareese Henare.

"If we can help whānau grow kai, it can help them move forward in terms of kai sovereignty," says Chareese.

"And if we can help them with mātauranga Māori through traditional ways of growing, harvesting, preparing, storing and then delivering kai, it gives them a connection back to Rongomaiwahine and te ao Māori through that passing on of knowledge and what we learn about ourselves."

"He Kai Hei Aku Ringa gives whānau the tools to become more proficient. We all know the burden of the cost of living, we know our whānau couldn't access produce from town because the roads were out for 3-4 months. So, we understand the importance of kai sovereignty for our hapori," says Chareese.

The need to build skills among whānau for kai sufficiency was evident in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, which cut a swathe of destruction from, but it's the connections between kaumātua and rangatahi that are providing substantial benefits.

"Kai is a rongoā on its own. Connection is also a rongoā, and we see the importance of that connection when our rangatahi drop off kai to their kaumātua.

"Often our kaumātua want to give something back in exchange but our kōrero to rangatahi is that they can't accept any koha when delivering kai except wisdom or advice from kaumātua, so it might be whakapapa or stories that they can share.

"We're seeing an amazing connection for kaumātua, who are often somewhat isolated, gained through the simple act of delivering kai. We see their eyes light up when kai is delivered."

Another example of connection, healing and learning for participants of He Kai Hei Aku Ringa, was the beaching of one mighty tohorā – sperm whale. Although the tragic beaching of the tohorā does not produce kai – forbidden by law – it did produce a teaching experience, demonstrated in this video.

"What we understand is how important it is for us to reclaim our mātauranga. Part of that is learning by doing and we're encouraging that process through making it okay to work with tohorā again.

"For so long we've just been burying whales and there's a lot of waste that comes from that. We've rendered down the blubber from that tohorā for balms and extracted the spermaceti and made different oils for rongoā and other uses like protecting timber.

"We even had whānau exchange knowledge with people in Te Tai Tokerau, they took spermaceti up there to help treat kauri dieback."

Head of Mātauranga Māori, Hauora Māori Services, Kingi Kiriona says funding for mātauranga Māori is helping to build resilience across individual, hapori and iwi levels.

"Having that contextual knowledge about traditional practices and connections between kaumātua and rangatahi, and between hapori and iwi, enables us to address contemporary issues like food supply resilience and using natural resources for healing," says Kingi.