Church-based Pasifika health education project earns leadership award

22 May 2018 | Building Leadership & Capability

The latest recipient of an Open for leadership award, Pegasus Health Pasifika Health Manager Maria Pasene, says she has her parents and a bossy aunty to thank for her career success.

Shelley Frost, Maria Pasene, SirJohn Hansen

From left: Commission Deputy Chair Shelley Frost, award winner Maria Pasene and Sir John Hansen, Independent Chair of the Canterbury Clinical Network’s Alliance Leadership Team.

‘I do what I do because I had a bossy aunty and parents who had high expectations of me, which is very common in our culture. We don’t choose leadership for ourselves. Leadership through service is appointed.’

Maria won the award for her leadership of the Tutupu project, which delivers health education to Canterbury’s Pasifika communities through their churches.
The project focuses on improving health literacy in Pasifika communities, identifying and mentoring health champions to lead and deliver the programme within their churches and developing church environments that support healthy choices.
Maria says church is a natural environment for Pasifika people to receive health promotion messages, and scripture references were included in the education sessions.
‘Church is such an important part of Pasifika culture. We are taught that our body is a temple of God, so we have a responsibility to look after it, not just for ourselves but spiritually as well.

Seven Christchurch Pasifika churches and one in Ashburton with a combined congregation of around 950 committed to the programme. They were asked to identify members to become health champions and attend education sessions. They were then provided with resources to deliver the health education to their respective churches.

Topics included nutrition, physical activity, lung health, pharmacy, oral health, health literacy, navigating health services and consumer rights. Health promoting policies in the church environment included nutrition and ‘water only: no more fizzy’.

‘Tutupu means to rapidly grow and flourish’, says Maria. ‘The programme’s success relied on having the full support of the churches’ leadership and for those delivering the health education to understand Pasifika culture and the church environment. It’s all about relationships.’

A speakers’ programme was later added to the project, with representatives from a range of services, including diabetes, smoking cessation and breast and cervical screening, making themselves available when invited by the churches. The Tutupu project is currently being formally evaluated, but Pegasus has committed to expanding it to other settings where high numbers of Pasifika people gather, such as workplaces.

The Open for leadership awards are part of the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s work to build capability and leadership in the health sector. They recognise and celebrate health professionals who demonstrate excellent practice, quality improvement and leadership skills.
The awards’ criteria have been expanded in 2018 to include emerging leaders in district alliances and consumers, and to specifically target primary care. Award winners must be within their first five years of taking on a clinical leader’s role.

Commission Deputy Chair Shelley Frost, who presented Maria with her award, says it recognises her exemplary leadership, communication and community engagement skills.

‘Maria is very good at identifying need and tapping into community resources. Another of her many strengths is her ability to recognise leadership potential in others and to actively support them to pursue their goals.

‘She lectures in Pasifika cultural competency and has supported the development of a Canterbury Clinical Network Pacific caucus to provide a Pasifika perspective across the network.

‘Her leadership in supporting the growth of Pasifika capability and capacity has been significant and demonstrates a passion to grow Pasifika leadership across the Canterbury health system.’

Maria says she sees part of her role now as being a bossy aunty to others. ‘Often people will downplay their ability and say they don’t know anything about a topic. My answer is always ‘no, and you never will unless you get into that space’.

‘When I first began working in primary health eight years ago, I was the only Pasifika representative in the network. We now have 14 workstreams with Pasifika representation.
The whole health system is now asking for a Pasifika perspective, so it’s a really exciting time for us.’

She says she was shocked to hear she’d won the award.

‘This role is a privilege. I’m surrounded by a group of amazing people who have made this possible.

‘It is my profession but, for me, it’s also personal. This is about losing my parents too early from diseases they shouldn’t have died from, and other family members now presenting with those same diseases. It’s also about my own children and the future of our Pasifika communities.

‘We’re planting seeds for trees whose shade we may never sit under.’

More information on the Open for leadership awards, including other recipients, is available here.

Last updated 22/05/2018