Yvonne Kainuku-Walsh

Registered nurse and special projects lead

Kia Orana

I am of Cook Islands and Irish descent. On my Kuki Airani side my whakapapa connects to the villages of Ngatangiia, Takitimu and County Tyron in Ireland. I am a registered nurse and have been specialising in sexual and reproductive health and adolescent health and development for more than 23 years.

At a very young age, I recall telling my mother, I wanted to be a nurse, even though I didn’t like hospitals – the smell and what they represented to me as a child. Soon after telling mum, I sought out my school guidance counsellor for advice on study pathways, but her discouragement deterred me for a number of years. When I was 19 my mother talked to me about how important it is to not only ‘dare to dream’ but ‘dare to share your dream’, for when you lose focus or hope, others hold it for you. This lesson has been a strong driver for me in connecting with the young people I am privileged to walk alongside.

As a student nurse, two things became very apparent to me (in terms of future focus and positioning myself in the sector). I enjoyed working in the community and primary health care sector, and I had a strong sense I wanted to work with young people.

Favourite inspirational quote:

"people don’t care about how much you know, until they know you care”. T Roosevelt.

Essential principles which underpin youth development (Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa 2002) include:

young people being connected (sense of belonging)
a consistent strengths-focused approach (fostering confidence)
it happening through quality relationships
it being triggered when young people fully participate
it having good information (evidence and experience of others)
it being shaped by the ‘big picture’ (locally, nationally, and globally).
With these in mind, we can’t afford to be siloed in our approach to the health and wellbeing needs of young people who consistently appear to be over-represented in teen pregnancy rates, high STI rates, suicide and suicide attempts and obesity related illnesses, to name a few.

In my many roles within the youth health and development sector (which spans almost 25 years) I am a true believer in these and other key values, which include ‘keeping it real’. I love the quote by T Roosevelt, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know you care”.

It’s also critical to ensure we are walking alongside young people, not only addressing their risk factor issues, such as violence, crime and safe sex, but taking an interest in their everyday lives and aspirations for the future.  

Evidence must also underpin any successful youth development approach/programme/initiative. Education alone does not change behaviours, nor do scare tactics have long lasting effects towards reducing teen pregnancy and safe sex.

I like talking about the difficult topics (‘real speak’). For the past eight years I have enjoyed my contribution to Radio ZM’s Sealed Section late night podcast team as the resident ‘sexologist’. Sealed Selection confronts all sorts of issues and queries providing listeners with relationship tips and information on the human body.

Effective clinical approaches in my role as a clinician in sexual and reproductive health include:

  • quality clinical services

  • partnership with the young person and whānau

  • being linked with other providers in a way that supports young people to navigate the complex health system adults have created the right people being caring and approachable from reception to the consultant (multidisciplinary).

It’s been such a privilege to have walked alongside so many different people through my capacity as a registered nurse which has taken me into many areas in the health, community and education sectors.

My roles have included: executive officer for the Pacific Society for Reproductive Health; project managing Healthy Eating Healthy Action (HEHA) initiatives with youth populations within the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB), and being the lead writer of the ADHB’s Youth Health Improvement Plan 2010-2015. Furthermore, I held an interim role as the programme leader of the Bachelor in Human Services, Youth Studies major at The University of Auckland.

Role at Le Va
My title is special projects, which means my role within the Le Va team is determined by a variety of needs required. Currently I am part of the FLO programme. Within the programme I support, manage, monitor and evaluate 17 community-funded initiatives which address Pasifika suicide.  

The FLO programme is the first Pasifika Suicide Prevention programme in the country and is part of the Waka Hourua, a joint programme for suicide prevention in Māori and Pacific communities delivered by Te Rau Matatini and Le Va. Waka Hourua responds directly to the expectations of the Ministry of Health’s New Zealand Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2013-2016. Other important facets to the FLO programme includes: FLO Talanoa, Le Va’s free, train the facilitators education workshop, FLO resources including our new video B.R.A.V.E.

Being a nurse in a workforce development centre
Le Va has set one of its key priority’s as relationships – hence ‘Le Va’ aka ‘the sacred space between’. With this in mind we also need to consider the ata mai (from you, to you), what we offer up into the Va (space between) is critical and often precipitated to nurturing relationships. As a nurse, this sits perfectly with my personal and professional life values so working for Le Va aligns with my own ways of being.

The skillsets I bring, are based on my clinical experience, policy writing, programme and project management, health promotion, teaching and facilitation skills.

Future aspirations
I want to continue serving in the community, sharing good information and creating opportunities for others to enhance their growth and development.

Key messages for nurses about how they can bring about change

  • Work in the areas you are passionate about, i.e. specialty, people.

  • Take every opportunity to capacity build, i.e. post grad studies.

  • Keep a healthy balance of career, family, recreation.

  • Don’t be defined by your title. Some of our best work (using our skills sets) comes in everyday relationships, supports, voluntary work, church, sports (for example, the manager of your child’s team), etc.

I believe that the most important thing of all is He tāngata he tāngata he tāngata – It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

In April 2016 Le Va will hold its third GPS – Growing Pasifika Solutions – conference. The theme will focus on young people. For more details go to the Le Va website. You don’t want to miss out on this progressive and exciting meeting, which will be co-created with young people.