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Weaving futures for Gisborne newborns

HELPING to protect newborns while mentoring female offenders has seen one Gisborne woman recognised.

Retired public health nurse Catharine White was this week honoured by the Department of Corrections with a Community Work Partnership award.

“I felt quite surprised. I’m usually a person who likes to work in the background,” Mrs White said.

The retiree works with women who have been sentenced to community work. She teaches them how to weave wahakura (flax bassinets) for babies at Gisborne Hospital at risk of sudden infant death. Her work is voluntary.

The two-week programme, a collaboration between Corrections and Ngati Porou Hauora, is seeing results.

“There was this woman who told me she used to drop her kids at school every day, go home and drink,” Mrs White said.

“After doing the programme they decided to make their house smoke, drug and alcohol-free — it’s a lovely feeling to hear that.”

Scientifically measurable resultsResults are also being seen at a scientific level.

A paper published last month in medical journal Acta Paediatrica found a 29 percent drop in national post-perinatal mortality between 2009 and 2015.

This reduction was greatest in areas where programmes to use wahakura and their plastic sister-device, The Pepi Pod, were most intensive.

The programme, which Mrs White began with Corrections in 2010, is an opportunity for the nurse to share more than her skills.

“There is a style of weaving that’s faster but we do this one. it gives us more time to chat with the girls,” she said of the three whiri design used.

The programme attendees weave the wahakura for whanau, women in the community or their own future arrivals.

“We also do emergency ones for mums who turn up at maternity with nothing,” said Mrs White, who first learnt the skill from friend Emily Schuster when she was expecting her fourth child.

“It worked out well as he needed multiple blood transfusions and it was prefect for carting him around the hospital,” she said.

Skills learned in the course are not limited to wahakura. Women are also taught how to design a bassinet mattress and make baby wipes.

“I learn as much from the ladies as they learn from me,” Mrs White said.

Garth Newman, the service manager at Gisborne Community Corrections, recognises the positive outcomes of Mrs White’s work.

“Corrections values the commitment of our community work partners like Catharine,” he said. “Weaving wahakura gives the women a means to complete their community sentence in a positive and productive way.”

Wednesday’s ceremony also acknowledged the service of Stephney Grayndler, a senior community work supervisor who initially suggested Mrs White take the programme to corrections.

“Like many people at Corrections, Stephney wears multiple hats. She’s a valued member of the team,” Mr Newman said.

DESERVED RECOGNITION: From right, retired nurse Catharine White and Gisborne Community Corrections senior community work supervisor Stephney Grayndler have been recognised for their services to the wahakura programme by Corrections lower north regional commissioner Paul Tomlin. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell.