If the walls of the Orongomai Marae could talk, there’s a good chance they would never stop. For over forty years, Orongomai has been at the centre of Upper Hutt, providing support, community and an incredible number of social services to people throughout the region. Our partner charity Kaibosh, provides food for one of these social services. We had a chat with the lovely Cameron Morrell Kapua about the history of Orongomai and what makes it such a special place.

By the early 1970s, Upper Hutt had become a centre for Māori from all over the country. Many came from small towns in the North Island and it is believed that for a time, there were representatives from all of the tribes around New Zealand. The growing Māori community needed a place to call home away from home and so they began raising money to build a marae. Over the next few years, a series of community fundraising activities—culminating in a spectacular Queens Carnival—provided them with the capital for the marae’s first building, now the wharekai. As it was being built, each member of the community who helped fundraise wrote their names on one of the bricks; making the Orongomai Marae a space that is literally owned by the community.

Orongomai Marae officially opened in 1976. It now boasts a number of buildings, most impressively ‘Kahukura;’ the elegant wharenui, renowned for its carvings representing all major New Zealand iwi. There is also an administration centre and a health clinic, as well as a very impressive and beloved community garden.

Orongomai has always been a beacon of love and support to the Upper Hutt community. The Health Clinic offers a range of services including hearing tests, diabetes and podiatry clinics as well as a tamariki ora service and weekly kaumātua fitness programmes. Orongomai also offers free legal aid and pastoral support, and often helps out with te reo Māori language throughout the community. The marae’s Tui Room is the centre for group therapy sessions, including reintegration of prisoners and victims of domestic violence and substance abuse. The Kererū Room hosts a large number of youth events, including a popular driving course. If you’re interested in traditional Māori weaving or joining a kapa haka group, hey you can do that too.

Kaibosh has provided Orongomai with kai since 2016. A food rescue charity, Kaibosh collects quality, surplus food from businesses across the Wellington region, redistributing it to community groups supporting people in need. There is a pick up from the Kaibosh Hutt base every Tuesday and the food is brought back to the marae where it is sorted into boxes by hard-working volunteers. The boxes are then distributed to families in need throughout the community.

As a past beneficiary of Kaibosh, Cameron says that being on the giving and receiving end are both humbling experiences. “It’s not like ‘this is mine and I’m giving it to you,’” he explains. “It’s a gift of love as well as kai. You get sustenance for your body as well as your spirit.” He says that he likes doing the drop-offs and seeing the expression on people’s faces.

Despite their choc-a-block schedule, Orongomai is always looking for new things to do. Once a month, Orongomai’s Manager Linda Pahi gets together with Managers of the other maraes in Greater Wellington for a hui. It’s a great way to see what everyone else is up to and to make sure the community ties stay strong. There’s currently talk of a recycling plant and workshops to help people reduce their carbon footprint. Where to next? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. One thing’s for sure, if you’re in Upper Hutt and you need a little aroha, Orongomai Marae is the place to be. It is a truly magical place.

Words by Telford Mills. Photography by Pat Shepherd.

Kaibosh Food Rescue is a Wellington Region based charity that collects quality surplus food and provides it to community groups that support people in need.You can support their work with a regular donation by clicking on the big blue button below, thank you.