Pictured: Agnes Walker (Healthy Families East Cape Strategic Leadership Member) and Linda Steel (CEO Te Ao Hou Trust and Healthy Families East Cape Strategic Leadership Co-Chair)
You may have heard her name, or seen her around town in Gisborne or her stomping ground, Ruatoria. You may have heard her on the sidelines at Whakarua Park, or caught her on her daily hikoi of 10,000 steps. That’s 10,000 steps every day. With no fail.
Ask anyone in Tairāwhiti about Agnes Walker, and they will surely tell you that it is a name synonymous with Ngāti Porou, with community, with whānau.
It is these very values, along with her extensive experience in policy and in public health that led Agnes on a life-altering path to Healthy Families East Cape, where she now sits on the Strategic Leadership Rōpū.
For the past three to four years, Agnes has been the friendly and vivacious local champion of not only Healthy Families East Cape and the Healthy Families NZ movement, but everything that these organizations stand for.
“Since being Manager of Healthy Families East Cape, I have been learning from international philanthropic organisations and our own Trust Tairāwhiti about the importance of ensuring the resource distributed in the community is achieving equity and enhancing community wellbeing, alongside creating awesome systems which benefit our whānau, hapū, iwi and community,” says Agnes.
After holding the position of Manager for three years, where Agnes was the driving force behind the team’s commitment to improving equity and health outcomes for Māori, she gracefully untied her shoelaces and hung up her boots, and took on the role of Strategic Leader for Healthy Families East Cape.
Agnes’s reflections on her time with Healthy Families East Cape capture her commitment to ensuring that the work is seeded and growing alongside system partners and communities to create healthier environments for the betterment of our people.
“As Strategic Leaders, we help fuel the movement of health prevention across our region,” says Agnes.
“Healthy Families has an overarching model, Kaupapa, building blocks and principles that are fundamental to health prevention. So being able to provide leadership in this space, and socialize those fundamentals, and what it means to uphold them, with my people, is what excited me and continues to excite me about Healthy Families.”
What resonates with Agnes, is that how we participate is by staying true to the kaupapa. We must hold the space and give time for our people, for Māori to tell their story and share their lived experiences.
“Healthy Families East Cape has been able to do this, in a way that is mana-enhancing, and in a way that props up the areas of our region that have previously not had a great deal of opportunity to do so.” Recalls Agnes.
Agnes now works with Ngāti Porou hāpū, striving to achieve systemic change for her people in forever-changing environments and systems.
Agnes has also taken on the wero of being a candidate, with hopes of entering the Gisborne District Council space as a Councillor on the first ever Māori Ward for Te Tairāwhiti.
“Now is the time,” sits at the heart of Agnes’s kōrero, “to ensure Māori voices are at the decision-making table with the mandate to represent whanau and hapu,”
“It is going to take the work of many sectors and individuals to continue building and reshaping our future for health, wellbeing, equity, and a prosperous Tairāwhiti.”
For Agnes, making the shift to run for Council is right for her, but she acknowledges that this move is not right for everybody.
“There are many opportunities to improve the health and wellbeing of our whānau, hapu, iwi and communities,” says Agnes.
“We have to be brave enough to take the steps necessary, thinking creatively and adapting within a systems approach to break through traditional barriers.”
One of Agnes’ favourite quotes came from Dr Ganesh Nana, Chair of the Productivity Commission, who presented at the Rau Tipu Rau Ora Summit 2020.
“Dr Ganesh said that wellbeing is about three things: Having access to opportunities, the ability to participate, and having a capacity to contribute. If we can focus on providing all three of these not only will we improve the health and wellbeing of our people but we’ll also achieve greater shared prosperity and a sense of belonging.”
“As a wāhine from Whareponga, what I can say is that the fundamentals and principles of Healthy Families, when working in unison and when upheld by those who have the power, help me and others like me to achieve these three things.”
Healthy Families East Cape thanks Agnes for her leadership, and for her drive to achieve profound transformative change across our locality.