Villages ready to look after their own

Thursday March 19, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Elisabeth Obeda the coordinator for the Vaenga-Pouara area of Matavera, interviews Wilkie Rasmussen. 20031806 Elisabeth Obeda the coordinator for the Vaenga-Pouara area of Matavera, interviews Wilkie Rasmussen. 20031806

It’s 6pm, still light but the day is drawing to a close. Gibeona Sunday School Hall in Matavera is a big space, but already it’s crowded with more than 80 people.

Most are familiar faces from Matavera, but there are others from further afield in Ngatangiia and Titikaveka.

Everyone is there for one reason: to find out how the threat of the coronavirus will affect them and their familes.

There is confusion, there is uncertainty – and there is the hope that the local puna community organisations can provide answers.

Earlier that day, Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera had reminded tourism leaders of the importance of the puna meetings, and reprimanded those who didn’t turn up to their village meetings. “These meetings are to give awareness to our people,” he said.

“We have invited everybody including business, hotels to come to these meetings, in our villages and none have turned up.

“I hear a lot of them asking questions today unnecessarily and if they had come to the meetings, they would have found out some information. Because there are ongoing discussions in community meetings for each district to prevent the virus.”

By evening, the message has trickled through. The carpark outside the Sunday School Hall is filling up with cars and scooters.

An elderly mama is seated in the middle of the crowd. There are enough seats for everyone. She is nearly 80, wearing a dark dress. Her daughter is here with her, but she needs to help moving about.

The help she needs, like everyone else, is understanding the response to Covid-19.

She is here for the long run – more than an hour and a half.. She has been confused with the meaning of the words ‘self-quarantine’ and ‘self-isolation’, she admits, and where they are meant to stay if they are quarantined.

By the end, she has some clarity. “The presentation was good because it cleared up what quarantine meant and now, I know I just stay home and won’t be moved to some other place.

“It’s good for me and us to know more about this virus, and to make sure that we are clear of what is going on,” she says.


The puna are key tools in Cook Islands’ work to get through the Covid-19 pandemic, says Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman. She is speaking to the audience at Gibeona, which has now swelled to more than 100 people.

To mobilise the awareness of Covid-19 in the communities, Dr Herman and government agencies have been making presentations to community groups around Rarotonga and the southern group islands.

“That community effort is crucial to the containment of the virus,” she says.

“What we need for the puna is the coordination, the manoeuvring and the mobilisation of our people.

“There will be a time when people will be asked to self-quarantine at home – we need the cooperation of the family, the village, the community.

Next week Parliament will be asked to pass emergency legislation allowing officials to stop people moving between the Pa Enua and Rarotonga, and even to constrain movement between the three vaka of Rarotonga.

But nobody wants to have to use those laws.

Dr Herman and other officials would far prefer that the communities win over their own members to the importance of staying put in their homes and properties, and limiting social contact. Persuasion is preferable to a police state.


In Matavera the next day, the coordinator for the Vaenga-Pouara area of the village says she was pleased with last night’s turnout.

But Elisabeth Obeda feels a bit sad that just the older people turned up. “The younger, more able ones didn’t show up – that was pretty disappointing to me.”

She said Dr Herman and the other speakers did well. “People don’t realise how much work goes on behind the scenes, that they are working around the clock to keep us safe.”

“Then people ask some stupid questions,” says Obeda. “Please read and listen to the information given out on the news and social media.”

Door-to-door surveys were speedily conducted over the weekend for data collection by Emergency Management Cook Islands; the results were revealed on the night.

The  population count for the village also known as Rangiatea totals 1,037; of this 96 people are over the age of 60.

Workers in the private sector number at 180, public sector has 135, and 64 are self-employed.

Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas assured government employees that a package would be set in place for workers to help see them through, when the time comes to stay at home.

Nurse Parau Ngamata reminds people with non-communicable diseases to pick up their regular medication, which will be prescribed and dispersed through until June. There will be no further regular check-ups until then.

And chief dentist Danny Areai warns that Te Marae Ora has drastically slashed dental services for the time being – only emergency cases will be seen to.

Dentistry is one of the highest risks for transmitting Covid-19: “We have to be firm on this, as it will be a risk on the staff,” he says. “Please do not contact us if it is not an emergency, this will be in place until June.”

Each Puna has aDisaster Risk Management Emergency committee that is active and will continue throughout the Covid-19 response period.

Volunteers from health, nurses and doctors in each village will visit households that could be affected.

They will be responsible to check up on the community.

“We want the community to be prepared for what is coming, we must hurry, we don’t have much time,’ says Dr Herman.

“If we don’t the virus will spread, the hospital will be overloaded, there is no vaccine there is no antiviral; this moves very fast, it moves very quickly.”



The Matavera  Disaster Risk Management committee is: Chairman Coordinator Takapi Kora, Assistant Chairman Tukurangi Hosking Jnr, Secretary Tauepa Tutakiao-Tupa, Assistant Renall Vogel, Treasurer Harriet Williams, Assistant Ngatuaine Maui, Ex-officio Hon. Vaitoti Tupa.

Vaenga-Pouara coordinator Elizabeth Obeda, assistant Nancy Taraare. Rotopu coordinator Marthalina Opuariki, assistant Pare Albert. Titama coordinator Trevor Tutakiau, assistant Pa Cowan.

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