by Helen Martin
Born to a Mâori mother and a Cook Island father, Levia Aukino-uruamo loves working with others to help them live healthier lives. Until she was nine, she lived on Mâori-owned whenua at Reweti, one of five marae in South Kaipara, then moved between Reweti and her father’s Massey home until she moved in with Edward Uruamo at 21, eventually marrying him and raising four children together. Steeped in both the cultures of her birth, she learned tikanga on the marae, te reo at Rutherford College and Cook Island Mâori from her grandparents.
Levia has always worked closely with communities. Her first job was as a cadet for the government department looking after Mâori and Pacific Island apprentices, after which she was an administrator for Training Opportunities Scheme (TOPS) courses for seven years. As a young woman she was a trustee on the Rewiti maraeBoard but is now on the marae committee because “working at that level is more real for me.” When the children were young, she ran holiday programmes at Reweti Marae and organised a monthly market day to encourage whakawhanaungatanga.
As well as DJ-ing with Ed at private gigs, she teaches te reo at Woodhill, her former primary school, and helps Edward with the complicated business of a family land claim. She has also been involved in developing community health programmes for several years. “In 2003, while we were living at Woodhill, I used to walk with my cousins and one day when we were talking about what could make us better mums we decided it was about looking after yourself, that your own health and well-being should be your top priority.”From there, with help fromTe Hâ Oranga, a Ngâti Whâtua organisation providing health and wellbeing services, she developed her first health programme, a weight loss challenge. “We ran it at Reweti marae with aerobics, healthy-cooking classes, walking circuits, table tennis and basketball and about 50 people came.It worked really well - a lot of my aunties found out things about their health they didn’t know.”Eventually Levia was employed by the professionals’ healthcare cooperative ProCare to continue her whanau health and well-being programme, Toku Oranga PaiWhanau Ora (A New Me). This contract ended after seven years but, having seen so many successes from the work, she continues with her inspirational programme, basing it around Helensville.
After a time away from the market she and Edward have returned to run it, putting a lot of energy into the monthly community event, providing music and dance as well as a vibrant sense of community. Levia visits local marae to help out with their hâkinakina (sports). She leads a hikoi (walking group) three times a week and, as someone brought up on Cook Island dancing, has turned her love of dancing into a brilliant exercise practice that benefits many. As well as taking her boom box and her enthusiasm around marae and local events, getting people on their feet and moving, she runs regular weekly classes. She calls her popular day class ‘groovy line dancing’ although following choreographed patterns of steps to music is as close as it gets to the country and western dancing of that name. It’s great exercise, great fun and the atmosphere is invariably accepting - anyone who attends is warmly welcomed and encouraged to keep going and keep smiling. The evening class, kanikani (pamper) is broader, with some line dancing but also a lot of pampering, with facials made from natural products, foot spas and healthy smoothies. “I’m keen on bringing families together and health is my priority,” says Levia. “If exercise isn’t fun it won’t be long term. It’s about doing things together and being able to share. We all need to look after ourselves.”