The free MYRIVR app was designed to help Pacific Island migrants learn about things like budgeting, how to get a driver’s licence and what an IRD number is.
Akerei Maresala-Thomson was a senior sergeant in charge of the Pacific, Ethnic and Asian portfolio for the Counties Manukau Police. The 12-year veteran resigned last March to concentrate on his work with the MYRIVR app.
“I was responsible for delivering programmes across the South Pacific, which included community policing programmes and domestic violence programmes, which some of our officers are still delivering now in the Cooks,” explains Maresala-Thomson of his former police role.
He wasn’t always a cop though.
“I got involved in gangs as a kid. My best friend was Joshua Marsters, a Cook Island boy – he was the leader of the Killer Beez, which is the fastest growing youth gang in Australasia.
“So we came through the same channels, but I was lucky that my social worker invested a bit of time in getting me into sport – and sports took me away from the hood.”
As the son of Samoan immigrant parents – he was five when they moved to New Zealand – Maresala-Thomson also knows firsthand what it’s like to have to come to grips with living in a strange country.
“I was born in Samoa, but like all my family we thought New Zealand was the land of milk and honey. We expected everything – but people didn’t tell us about the little things. And it’s those little things that we come unstuck on.”
Hence the MYRIVR app – and as well as practical advice on things like driver’s licences, it also provides information on where to get help when things go wrong, providing instant access to more than 7000 health and social services around New Zealand.
Recalling his time with the Counties Manukau Police, Maresala-Thomson illustrates just the type of situation the MYRIVR app has been created to avoid.
“We used to turn up to a domestic violence incident – and nine times out of 10, the men – they have to go. Now if you’re a new father from the Cook Islands that’s got no other whanau around and cops just happen to turn up and tell you to go – where are you going to go?
“Especially if you don’t have any support anywhere and you were never prepared for anything. And if it’s in the middle of winter? That’s even worse.”
Having travelled to the Cook Islands for training purposes two years ago, Maresala-Thomson – here over the weekend celebrating his 40th birthday – has some close contacts within the local police, and says they’re “very supportive” of the MYRIVR app.
“This app is helping our Pacific Islanders throughout New Zealand” says senior sergeant Maevarangi Kirikava of the Cook Islands Police Service. “If you’re planning to move to New Zealand, I recommend you download this app – it’s making a difference in our Pacific Island lives.”
Adds Maresala-Thomson: “What I want to encourage, for the Cook Islands community, if they’re considering moving to Aotearoa New Zealand to live – there’s a free resource tool here for them.”
“They don’t have to get there and then stress out – ‘OK, how can I help myself over here when my family’s so far away?’ – there’s help in the palm of their hands! And even before they get on the plane they can learn about things – then at least they’ve got a bit more awareness of how to reach out for help.”
For more information on the MYRVR app, go to their Facebook page, @MyRivr.