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Habitat Women: A conversation with Carina, our hug-giver

Mar 7, 2023

I’m Carina, and I’m the Tai Tokerau Operations Manager

What does your day-to-day look like at Habitat Northern?

I’ve been here nearly six years and my day-to-day looks like working with an awesome team of people who are really committed to Habitat and the work we do to improve the lives of Northlanders.

 

What inspired you to get involved with Habitat Northern?

I’m passionate about Northland and I am passionate in particular about children, and the well-being of children and young people. In my previous role I was working in a job that was really an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We were working with children and young people who were already really struggling. I saw a lot of housing need when I was in that role, so when this job came up I felt like it would be a wonderful way to support my community.

My previous role taught me that the safety and security that comes with having a warm, dry, secure home to live in makes the world of difference for families, and particularly children, in having stability.  That is part of who we are at Habitat, and what we do really makes a difference for families. Yeah, that’s what inspired me to apply for the job.

 

Was your previous role related to housing?

No, it was working with vulnerable kids who weren’t engaged in education. A lot of the time, the reason they weren’t engaged in education was because of a whole raft of other things going on in their lives. This included transience. Transience is a massive issue for children. A lack of stability. We were dealing with nine year olds who had been to nine different schools, and things like that.

You just can’t get a good education when you don’t have stability or don’t go to the same school or have the same teachers and the same friends. That was often through no fault of their own or no fault of their parents, it’s often due to housing issues.

 

So you’d say that housing issues are causing a lot of health and well-being issues?

Oh, absolutely. The stress and the pressure on families when they don’t have somewhere safe and secure, it’s no wonder that they’re not actually focusing on trying to get their kids to school. They’re actually just focusing on trying to survive day-to-day. So working with Habitat Northern to relieve that stress, and that pressure is massive.

 

What sort of challenges do you face in your current role? And how do you overcome those?

The biggest challenge for us and Tai Tokerau, is the level of deprivation in the area and the sheer size and ruralness of Northland. We are hard to access, but those are the pockets that arguably have the greatest need. I think that’s really been showcased recently, with the flooding, power cuts and the inaccessibility.

Our basic infrastructure is so poor and so I think those are the biggest challenges that we have been facing in Northland. Access to basic amenities like power and water is often a challenge for the families that we work with. On average the household income is so low and that makes life really tough for a lot of people.

 

So how do you cope on a personal level with the ongoing struggles that you see in Tai Tokerau?

I am absolutely an optimist, a ‘half glass full’ kind of person. The way I process it is by focusing on the families that we are helping and that we can help right in this moment.

As I look in front of me, I’ve got 20 names up on the board of families that will be moving into brand new social rental homes in the coming weeks. That will make a huge difference in the lives of those families and those kids. That’s what I focus on.

 

How would you describe the wāhine that you work with through these programmes?

What really strikes me is that they really want a better life for their kids. They want to make a change for their kids and it’s often all focused around what will make the biggest difference in the lives of their children. I think that’s a real driver for them. You know, like, I want to do the best that I possibly can for my children. So I would describe the women I work with as strong, powerful, determined and unashamedly focused on a better life for them and their kids. Which is awesome.

 

Many of the whānau and homes that Habitat work with have a strong woman at the heart of them. Is there a wahine in your life who has or continues to inspire you?

Oh, many. I’m really blessed to have wonderful women around me starting with my own family, friends and mentors. I don’t want to narrow that down to one because I’m blessed to have a lot of great role models who inspire me in all sorts of different ways.

 

Can you think of something that you’ve learned from these role models that you use in your life?

I look at my mum and how hard she has worked over all of these years. She raised a wonderful family, but was also able to run a successful business with my dad as an equal partner in that.

I’m really blessed to live in a time where it’s okay, it’s even celebrated, for women to have their own careers and their own lives and be successful in their own right. You know, I think that’s so cool.

I feel really lucky and I do acknowledge the women who have come before me, who fought that fight to get to where we are.

 

Through your work with Habitat, can you think of an example of a time that the work you’ve done has uplifted a woman?

My first month at work I got to hand over the keys for a new house to a single mum. Hearing her talk about the difference that that was going to make in her life and the lives of her children, that really stuck with me.

It was literally my first month working at Habitat and I thought “I’ve hit the jackpot”. Being able to change people’s lives in such a meaningful way.

 

My last question for you is, What’s one word that you’d use to describe yourself?

Passionate is probably a good word for me, I think that sums me up. It’s emotive (and I’m definitely emotional *haha*) but I’m also driven. Give me something to do, and I will do it.

 

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