Monday 31 July 2023

Reconnecting with whānau – Marke’s story

Auckland City Mission keyworker Adrienne with Marke

Auckland City Mission keyworker Adrienne with Marke.

An important strand of work at the Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai is supporting service users to make positive social connections. Poverty and illness can be very isolating and that in turn has a further negative impact on wellbeing. Sometimes connecting is as straightforward as a referral to a support group and for other people, like Marke, the work is more complex.

Marke gave up hope long ago that he’d see whānau again. It had been 30 years since he’d last seen them and he didn’t know how to begin the search. He was afraid his parents might have passed away. But with the help of his Keyworker, Adrienne, Marke has been able to reconnect with his family and start to rebuild relationships.

“Marke lost contact with his family after they moved to Australia in the ’90s,” says Adrienne. “He still had an address for them but when I checked the White Pages, there was no-one with that surname at the address.”

Adrienne also tried Google searching and checked the electoral roll here in case Marke’s whānau had returned to Aotearoa, but to no avail.

Marke grew up on the North Shore, the youngest of four children, but he’d been transient for a long time, making it difficult for anyone to find him, and he has complex health issues which limit his mobility, memory, and speech.

Adrienne changed tack, this time creating a Facebook profile for Marke and uploading his treasured family photos so if anyone in his whānau saw his page, they would be able to recognise themselves.

“I checked the page every week or so to see if there were any messages, but months passed and no-one got in touch,” she says.

It was a big surprise when, just after Christmas, a message popped up from Marke’s niece, Tracy.

“Oh my gosh, I got such a fright!” laughs Adrienne.

She messaged back with Marke’s contact details and Tracy said she’d contact Marke.

Adrienne was excitedly anticipating her next visit with him.

“I said, ‘Have you had any special phone calls?’ And he said, ‘No. Who?’ And I said, “Hmm, your family maybe?’ And he was genuinely confused. I asked to look at his phone and there were all these missed calls! Someone had been trying to get in touch. But it was a new phone and Marke was still getting used it and hadn’t seen the messages.”

When Marke accessed the messages, “his face lit up”, recalls Adrienne. “He had a huge smile.”

Tracy set up a three-way call and dialled in Marke’s sisters, Julie and Rochelle who were with his mum Janice.

Marke is all smiles as he remembers the call. “It was fantastic. Hearing Mum’s voice again after all those years was just amazing. I thought I’d never see or hear from them again.”

Adrienne laughs as she remembers how animated all family members were on the call. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, so I left to give them space.

“It was a pivotal moment in Marke’s life. I could see how exhilarated he was to know that he still had whānau he belonged to. They mean everything to him.”

Marke was correct in thinking his dad had passed away, and tragically it was only seven months before he’d managed to make contact. Knowing how close he’d been to one last conversation was upsetting for him.

Today, Marke is a big support for his mum, and they chat by phone several times a week.

“Mum and Dad were together 55 years so it’s a hard time for my mother, she misses him a lot.”

Marke’s sisters, who live close to their mother in Queensland, often join the call.

Together, they’re trying to get in touch with Marke’s brother, Darryl, who lives in the Waikato.

“He’s not much of a talker,” says Marke, “We haven’t been able to contact him by phone, so Mum’s written to him to give him my number and address.”

Now Marke has rows of family photos decorating his home in New Lynn and takes a keen interest in what everyone is up to. Family phone calls are the highlight of his week.

“I’ve learned all about my sister’s children and how one of them now has a baby. We just chat about our day, what everyone is up to.”

According to Marke, Adrienne is “a pretty cool lady. She helped me find my family and she printed off lots of family photos for me. She has been a champion.”

Adrienne says Marke’s demeanour has changed and that she can see in him a sense of contentment.

“He is settled now. He has a great relationship with his mum and really enjoys their chats.”

But she’s not done yet. “I’d like to see Marke get onto a video call with his mum. That would be awesome.”


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