by Helen Martin
Irene Hogan, well known in the district for her work with Mt Tabor Trust, where she was a founding member, and with the Helensville Birthing Unit, TARRA (Te Awaroa Residents and Ratepayers Association) and South Kaipara Youth (SkYouth), is retiring after a long career rich in community involvement and aroha.
Irene’s life has always been about the wellbeing of others. Born in Poverty Bay in 1947, she was one of nine children. Her desire to help others was embodied in her first step out into the world of work – in Wellington she trained as a nurse, then studied midwifery to prepare for VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad). Volunteering for two years as a midwife for the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of Malaysia followed. Irene has also delivered babies in Tonga and the Cook Islands, but most of her work has been in New Zealand. After gaining a post graduate qualification in community health she worked as a public health/district nurse in Taihape and Gisborne, then became the district nurse liaison between Auckland hospital and the extra mural hospital in Grafton. Meeting Lorraine, who had been a social worker/teacher in New Guinea, was the catalyst for a new direction. “We were both interested in mission in New Zealand, we wanted to work with people who needed support, so we studied at the Catholic lay training centre for a year in Ponsonby. While there we met Jean Vanier, who had founded the L’Arche community for intellectually handicapped adults in France, and the three of us got the idea of providing a home for people with intellectual disability who had nowhere to go. We started Mt Tabor by setting up a Trust and renting an old house in Williamson Ave in Grey Lynn.” Irene, Lorraine, co-founder John Hill and Lorraine’s future husband Michael Popple lived there with six intellectually disabled young people. As the project grew they rented more and more houses around Auckland and gained support from neighbours, social workers, students, other live-in people and eventually government schemes.
Mt Tabor’s philosophy, based on L’Arche, has been the glue holding the scheme together for over 40 years, aiming to create small, faith-based communities of friendship and mutuality between people of differing abilities. “Basically, we are all disabled, and we live together and learn from each other,” Irene explains. “We learn from living with people with an intellectual disability that the riches of intelligence and knowledge are no more valuable than the riches of the way you live as a person with less intellect. If you think you’re smarter than them, dream on.”
To support herself while living in Mt Tabor houses Irene went back to midwifery (it was not for many years that the government employed people to live-in and take responsibility for the houses).