Around 80 Pacific women attended a ‘Pink Breakfast’ held at the Pacific Island Advisory Charitable Trust: PIACT • Pacific Island Advisory Charitable Trust in Invercargill in August.
The event was organised in a partnership between WellSouth, PIACT, Te Whatu Ora Southern, and Breast screening Otago Southland to raise awareness of breast and cervical screening, immunisations and broader health issues.
Hosted and emceed by Aiga Toomalatai, PIACT’s community link worker, the breakfast featured a panel discussion, question and answer sessions, immunisations and screenings, plus attendees were treated to tailored pamper packs, delicious food and back and hand massages from Southern Institute of Technology students.
Empowering Pacific women with knowledge
Dr Letava Tafuna’i, a GP in Dunedin and Senior Clinical Advisor Pasifika for WellSouth, says women are the core of the Pacific family.
“That position makes them vital in normalising health conversations and reaching different generations, but it also means they are often more focused on the needs of the rest of the family than their own.
“We want to empower our women with knowledge. Pacific women need to understand why it’s important to get checked and screened. We are all the same – no one would buy in to something they know nothing about.”
A safe, familiar space to share stories
“At the breakfast, the women were in a familiar place surrounded by their Pacific sisters. They knew they could ask whatever questions they wanted and get the answers there and then. Even if they were too shy to ask something, often someone else with the same question would speak up instead,” Dr Letava says.
One of the most powerful aspects of the event was having local women sharing their health journeys and how they had been affected by cancer.
“The room went quiet when women from the community started talking. The community will listen to their own people who have been through the journey. These are stories they may otherwise not hear.
“These stories show that it’s not just about a campaign somewhere else in the country, it’s happening here, to our people.”
Making the most of existing networks
Through PIACT, Pacific people in the deep south can already access – or be connected to – a range of services related to physical, mental, financial, spiritual and social health.
“PIACT knows their community,” Dr Letava says. “For the women who came to our event, it was like coming to a home where they already knew the owners. There was an existing trust in the leadership and staff, and everyone was greeted with a big hug, in their own language as much as possible, with warmth and music.”
The breakfast is the beginning of WellSouth’s Breast and Cervical campaign with further events across Otago and Southland – several attendees asked about the possibility of an evening mother-daughter event – organised by WellSouth, Te Whatu Ora and Breast Screening Southland in partnership with other Pacific providers and community groups.
The Invercargill breakfast proved how important such events and campaigns can be as entry points for ongoing broader efforts to improve health outcomes for Pacific people across the South including when it comes to capacity building and service provision.
“Making the event such a success was definitely a team effort - from the ladies in the kitchen cooking and serving, to the ladies welcoming people at the front door, the fantastic decorations, the Te Hau o Te Ora immunisation team, and the information sharing teams.
“Navigating the health system in Aotearoa can be difficult. The breakfast has helped introduce PIACT as the place Pacific women can come to for advice and to connect with the services they need.”