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Top wool handler and wool classer Tia Potae, of Milton, is a virtual ‘rural navigator’, for Te Putahitanga o Te Waipounamu, and she, along with Serena Lyders, of Tokonui, have spent the past four months developing the online service for wool, forestry and fishing industry workers who find it difficult to access services after hours.
"Once I get on my feet, I want to see it expanded to all of Otago and Southland. My biggest goal is for it to become South Island-wide," Miss Potae said.
Both Miss Potae and Mrs Lyders, who is a Manukura navigator leader and mentor, have been in the shearing industry all their lives.
Mrs Lyders said she chose Miss Potae as she was well respected within the shearing industry.
"She is an amazing woman and I needed to find someone who was special, who has been in the industry for a long time and whom the industry accepted.
"They call her Aunty, out of respect.
"It is about getting the right people in the right place to have the right conversation."
Mrs Lyders developed the ‘rural navigator’ programme following her survey of wool harvesters last year, and the need for improved after-hours health and social services access and support was identified as a concern.
The day Miss Potae started in her new role, the country went into lockdown, which meant the project had to ‘evolve’ slightly to meet demand, including more online involvement.
"It is not what we originally envisaged but it is what is required," Mrs Lyders said.
On her first day, Miss Potae had to help a group of shearers locked out of their accommodation by their contractor because of Covid-19, and later dealt with family violence happening among shearing families.
Miss Potae will continue to work as a wool classer and as a trainer for Elite Shearing, and combine that with her navigator role.
She has an office at Tokowaiora Health Services, Milton, for face-to-face meetings, and has been working with contractors and workers to clarify wage subsidy matters.
She recently organised a free flu vaccination clinic for wool workers in Milton.
She will hold information workshops in woolsheds on issues, such as understanding payslips and budgeting.
"A lot of young ones come out of of school at 15 or 16, some with minimal education and a limited understanding of things like that, including taxes, and I will also try to help them set a budget."
Liv Gardner, of Alexandra, also from a shearing background, is a rural navigator too.