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David Letele, centre, and his team at the Buttabean HQ in Manukau.
David Letele, centre, and his team at the Buttabean HQ in Manukau.

SocietyAugust 19, 2021

‘It doesn’t feel as close to home’: South Aucklanders feel prepared but wary

David Letele, centre, and his team at the Buttabean HQ in Manukau.
David Letele, centre, and his team at the Buttabean HQ in Manukau.

After the two previous lockdowns, South Auckland leaders say not having a community outbreak located in the region is a small relief. 

South Auckland weight-loss guru David Letele and his community wellbeing organisation, BBM Motivation, have already given out almost 2500 meals over the last 24 hours and he’s bracing his team for their services to be inundated over the coming weeks. “I think it’s just going to get worse and worse,” said the former professional boxer also known as the Brown Buttabean. “Particular for people who are already struggling, as they have just been keeping their heads above water, so this will really affect them.”

Letele’s Buttabean HQ in Manukau, which is home to a gym, food bank and community kitchen, flew into action on Wednesday morning giving out lunches that were originally intended for schools. He said the feeling from those needing help was a mixture of “uncertainty and fear”, but given “most are in that lower socioeconomic bracket, living day to day, they are just happy that we’re providing this”.

His main message to those struggling is not to go it alone. “Don’t be shy to reach out for help, and ask groups like ours to help you navigate stuff like getting your full entitlements from WINZ,” he said. “It’s during these tough times that we stand up, and there is support out there – you just need to know where to look.” 

Letele has already had regular contact with the council’s Auckland Emergency Management team and Ministry of Social Development staff, which he said is a big improvement on previous lockdowns. “I can see that they’ve learnt from the first lockdown that the response needs to go through groups already on the ground, doing the work and connected, and that there’s no need to reinvent anything.”

Over at Māngere College, the mood was cautiously optimistic following the level four announcement. Principal Tom Webb said his students will be better prepared for navigating this lockdown. “It doesn’t feel as close to home, but given it is the delta variant, we know anything can happen with that.” 

The students and staff are no strangers to lockdowns, with two previous Auckland lockdowns coming as a result of cases within the South Auckland community. 

At the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020, almost 80% of students at Māngere College didn’t have a laptop, but thanks to efforts by the school and the Ministry of Education the majority of pupils have access to a device and an internet connection. 

“When I met with teachers [on Wednesday] morning, they seemed pretty positive as we’ve got the system set up already from previous lockdowns. We’ve allowed a lot of our senior students to take home laptops all year, just in case something like this happened

“And pretty much most families now have access to the internet as we’ve been working with Skinny Jump to provide free modems to families.” 

Pupils have begun learning via Google Classroom, but Webb says they have also made allowances for students who can’t work off a laptop. “The challenge for us is that at level four we can’t distribute work packs as we’ve done previously. We know that Google Classroom is difficult for some of our students to engage with so we’re also trying to post up work that can be done without a computer.”

From left; Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina, BBM Motivation’s David Letele and Māngere College’s Tom Webb. (Photo: Supplied)

Manukau ward Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina hopes this lockdown reinforces the importance of getting vaccinated, and he’s in discussions with the Counties Manukau DHB about setting up pop-up testing and vaccination sites to enable this to happen. “It’s just a case of getting as many whānau, aiga and families tested and vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Filipaina also urges families to make sure they are looking after themselves and each other, to prevent another surge in family violence incidents, as happened during the first level four lockdown.

“It’s going to be a traumatic time and now that our kids will be at home, and we know from the previous lockdowns how stressful those times were, so that’s why you need to take a break. It’s really key that people look after themselves and be kind, especially to ensure they’re not affecting our elderly and our most vulnerable.”

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