“Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro ma, te miro pango, te miro whero.”

“There is but one eye of the needle, through which white, black and red cotton must pass.”

Naa Kiingi Pootatau Te Wherowhero.

The determination that others must follow in her footsteps has led a successful young doctor to team up with a senior colleague to create a new philanthropic investment fund dedicated to getting more Maaori into the health sector.  

Te Rau Oranga Fund has been established by Waikato Hospital doctors Ruth Tan (Ngaati Hangarau and Ngaati Mutunga) and Stephen Ng, along with their colleagues and families, and placed in the care of Momentum Waikato, where it is now open to public donations.

Ruth and Stephen’s ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes for Maaori in the Waikato, and they believe one of the ways this can be done is by increasing the number of Maaori working in the health system.

Their new Fund will achieve this by providing scholarships, career promotion and mentoring to students, initially at Te Kura Tuarua o Taniwharau-Fraser High School in Hamilton, which Ruth attended, and eventually at other local secondary schools in the Waikato.

Ruth Tan is a doctor at Waikato Hospital.

“Te Rau Ora has a few meanings, ’ora’ is ‘health and wellness’, ‘rau’ can be ‘many’ or ‘leaf’,” says Ruth.

“The title has been gifted to us by Matua Paora, a long-serving kaiako at Fraser, who says it to mean both ‘health for the many’ and ‘a tree with many leaves of opportunity’.

“You don’t see many Maaori in the workforce here at the Hospital, we are few and far between, and that is a barrier.”

Ruth says people are reticent to seek and take full advantage of help offered by individuals and institutions with whom they’ve had problematic interactions, both personally and historically.

“We want to provide students with a ‘visual aid’ of what they can become, that they can choose a health career if they want to, to know it’s an achievable goal.”

The Fund’s initial plan is to provide scholarships across the high school years. For juniors the immediate goal is to keep them in school, a critical move as students start leaving at Year 11, completely blocking or slowing down their eventual entry into the health sector.

For seniors, the scholarship conditions will be more tailored, with an expectation they are interested in a health career and are taking relevant subjects towards that pathway.

Alongside the financial support, Ruth and Stephen plan on introducing students at Taniwharau to the careers available in health, and then connect the interested ones with mentors. Ruth’s own story shows them what is possible.

“I was born and raised here in Kirikiriroa-Hamilton, the youngest of five children, we’re Maaori-Chinese-Pakeha. My parents had a Chinese takeaways, then closed it and went to work for the church,” says Ruth.

“We had a roof over our head but nothing much extra. I loved school, it was sport that kept me there, which led me to train and work in physiotherapy, and it was from there that I moved into medicine.

“I never had a role model for a health career at high school, never had that opportunity put in front of me, and for all the professions, I thought I wasn’t good enough, they wouldn’t accept me, didn’t see people that looked and talked like me going there.

“I want to remove those barriers that I faced, I’m happy to stand up and be seen, so the students and everyone can have positive interactions with a health professional and see what they can do too.

“Te Rau Oranga Fund is intended to be a ‘by Maaori, for Maaori’ initiative. Our scholarships and outreach will provide opportunities for students who may not otherwise have had them, and empower them to choose any career in the health sector.”

“There are very small numbers of Maaori in the health workforce and by increasing the number of Maaori healthcare practitioners we can improve the health of Maaori, by delivering care that is tailored to our people.

“Also, the health sector has chronic staff shortages, so increasing the number of Maaori in the workforce will not only help its diversity but also the overall number of practitioners,” says Ruth.

To help establish Te Rau Oranga, Ruth and Stephen and their families and colleagues made personal donations. Stephen and his colleagues also transferred the funds from a previous philanthropic project, the Waikato Eye Foundation. In addition The Braemar Charitable Trust is also a founding donor.

At the signing of Te Rau Oranga Deed of Gift at Momentum Waikato. Left to Right: Maxine Moana-Tuwhangai - Momentum Board member; Paula Baker - Braemar Charitable Trust; Ruth Tan and Stephen Ng - Te Rau Oranga Fund founders; Neil Richardson - Momentum Chair.

Te Rau Oranga is not a trust, instead it has been formed by the Fund’s Deed of Gift with Momentum.   

Stephen says while Ruth’s story is inspiring, “most of all, she’s inspiring”.

“The most powerful thing about this Fund is that it is driven by someone prepared to go out and tell her story, to show she was able to do it, and is thinking strategically about community healthcare.”

“I want to express our thanks to Momentum Waikato for helping us to realise this project,” says Stephen.

“It can be very daunting when you have an idea and don’t know how to set up a fund such as this, so having Momentum’s resources and advice has been invaluable.”

Momentum Waikato Chief Executive Kelvyn Eglinton welcomes the establishment of Te Rau Oranga Fund, the latest of a number of health-related groups that have set up funds with the community foundation.

“What Ruth and Stephen are doing with Te Rau Oranga is impressive,” says Kelvyn.

“They are not big-time philanthropists, they are just everyday professionals working in this community who are putting their own time and money into doing something about the issues facing their sector.

“I applaud them and encourage everyone to donate to Te Rau Oranga Fund,” says Kelvyn.

To donate to Te Rau Oranga Fund go to momentumwaikato.nz/donate or contact info@momentumwaikato.nz.