Expert Breakfast Report for 26 September 2018: Ms Anna Tiatia Fa’atoese Latu, Dept of Medicine

There was a lot of amicable laughter throughout this very informative session, which was liberally scattered with both amusing stories and significant insights.

Anna Latu is a lecturer in the Dean’s Department of the School of Medicine, her subject being Hauora Maori. - (The Hauora is a Māori philosophy of health and well-being unique to New Zealand - for more on this see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauora).

For the usual round of introductions, Anna asked those present to first give a briefing in their own home language as well as English, and Māori if they felt confident to do so. Some did, one in particular being very impressive. Anna had already set the tone by suggesting to a student from Australia that his greeting should have been ‘Gidday!’, and the whole introduction process was liberally scattered with Anna’s amusing observations.

The spotlight fell upon Hamilton at one point, and Anna related a story about her sister, who met a man at the local swimming pool there. Her sister had a boyfriend, and the man had a girlfriend and all four became friends for a while, then Anna’s sister and this man came down to Otago to study and ended up marrying each other. “You never know who your friends are, really, until . . . " - (the rest was drowned in laughter).

Anna Finds Her Whanau
Anna was born and bred in Auckland, her parents having met in Dunedin at a party, her mother having been born here into a devout Catholic family. When Anna’s mother became pregnant “She went “Oops! I shouldn’t be pregnant” . . she raced up to Auckland and had me up there.” Anna was raised in Pakeha culture, though always aware she was Māori . Her step-father was successful in obtaining a job in the South Island, where Anna attended Rangiora High School. At a dinner party, “a lady asked me if I was Māori , and I said that I was, but I don’t know my whakapapa.” The lady asked her for her father’s name, and said she had a friend with that same name. It turned out that this friend was Anna’s Auntie. As she first met this Auntie in Christchurch Botanical Gardens it has become a special place for Anna. As a result, she first met her father when she was 16 years old, and so made contact with the whole Māori side of her family. “My Nanny was a real scary lady. When I asked her if I could wash the dishes, she said ‘No! I like the flavour added!” But Nanny was ‘really cool’ in other ways, really connected to the river, and an amazing weaver despite terrible arthritis in her hands.

When Anna started university, with no family history of university attendance to guide her, she did not know what to study, and was too shy to say to anyone “I’m in the wrong class!” and ended the year with a Diploma in Personal Training. Having gained more confidence during the year, she asked to cross-credit her Diploma for a qualification in sport and recreation with a major in physical activity and nutrition, her real passion being to work with Māori on fixing the obesity issues in Aotearoa. “That was my naivety, I guess”, said Anna. She qualified as a Bachelor of Sport and Recreation, and became one of the top personal trainers in Auckland, but soon realised the superficiality of what she was doing. “It was all about how I looked, not about who I was or what I believed in”.

The Game Changing Experience
This became particularly clear when Anna was working on a placement at North Shore Hospital with seriously ill Māori patients and thinking that she should be helping those who could not afford help, not so much those who were ‘feeding my purse’. She discussed this with her mentor, Lucy Ripia, who told her she needed to find out who she was culturally. The first paper recommended for study was a pretty intimidating one for Anna, Cultural Dance. “And I was like, ‘Oh, wow! This is going to be fun - and by this time I had had a little girl, so Georgie used to come to class with me, in the corner , in her pram.”

Being a single parent made Anna reticent about talking with other people in the class, not did she feel comfortable when attending meetings of the University Māori group, but found a niche with the Pacific Island group, when a Samoan friend invited her to join them. Subsequently passing the papers she took including health science, Anna advises single mothers that they, too can succeed - though it is clearly going to be harder while raising children.

Anna then told us of ‘my favourite story as a mother’ which illustrated the difficulties. One night Georgia had vomited in her bed, so Anna cleaned up after showering Georgia and putting her in Anna’s own bed - where Georgia vomited again. More cleaning up, Georgie back in her bed - where she vomited for a third time! After showering them both, Anna got a sleeping bag, and they slept together on the couch. Not a great preparation for work in just a few hours time!

At the end of her studies, Anna had qualified Public Health, completing that with a Master's in Cultural Competence, earning an MPH.

Anna regaled us with many great little stories, told in a very amusing way. Just a couple here to illustrate: 
Coming down to Otago and working at the University, she became involved in a study on cigarette smoking among 16 year olds. “We decided to separate the boys from the girls, because the first group spent the entire time looking at each other and giggling. . . . I’m not going to get anything out of these guys . . . . . so I read a book on how to work with boys . . how to handle young men. I read that cover to cover overnight, and so I had some strategies to turn light bulbs on for young men.”

This cigarette research took Anna all over New Zealand her brief being to look at a Māori cohort as part of the larger collaborative study. The work was aimed at how people had started smoking, but Anna was much more interested in how to get them to stop. She negotiated to have this included in the survey.

Table-Tennis and Life Skill Camps
A group of young men she was due to meet in Kawerau almost fell through because the person who was supposed to organise it forgot. Anna was staying there with a friend who, on hearing of this, said , “Just drive down the main street, and if you see a young fellow, ask him if he’s got a smoke.” Initially wary of this idea, Anna thought the basic idea had possibilities, and did drive down the main street, saw two young men, wound down her window and called out, “Excuse me, do you know any young boys who might be interested in doing a focus group on smoking?” The immediate and only response was, “Meet us in half an hour at this address” - without even asking her why she wanted to know. So Anna found herself going to meet a group of strangers in a strange house in not the most up-market are of town, equipped with a catering pack and other bits and pieces to help the process along. Bravely, in the interests if research, she went in, noting a table-tennis table as she went through the front door which made her feel a bit better.

It turned out that a Kawerau man had decided too many young men there were ‘dropping out’, so he was running a builders course for them. 
The boys agreed to take part in the survey in return for a game of table tennis afterwards! In the discussion the youngsters suggested that there should be a camp where they would learn ‘a whole heap of life skills’ for a month or two, with no smoking allowed for that period. Because of their influence on the boys smoking, the parents would also be required to attend the camps periodically throughout their period. This idea was repeated again and again with each focus group she worked with.

Subsequently Anna and the friend she was staying with (who had also studied sports) took on the ten boys at table tennis - and won.

Posted: Friday October 5, 2018