Cathy Bi-Riley

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Cathy comes to Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga with five years experience working in advocacy and research with Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. Cathy has been part of the Anglican lay order of Urban Vision in Wellington and was deeply involved in her neighbourhood of Newtown through youth work, and running a home of hospitality.


Cathy Bi-Riley's latest activity
published The Power of Personal Stories in News 2019-05-23 12:14:45 +1200

The Power of Personal Stories

On May the 20th, the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga network gathered together at Migrant Action Trust (MAT). As we move towards establishing our Sponsoring Committee by mid-year 2019, our network meetings are an opportunity for organisations to get to know each other. Together we embark on a process of establishing common ground for our emerging alliance.

Sr Lee Tan is a recent addition to the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga organising team. Lee shared with us about the community organising concepts of self-interest and relational meeting. Our ability to act together as an alliance is linked to our trust and understanding of each other, and of our members/communities. Self-interest is seeing ourselves and our story in and amongst the story of others. Our self-interest connects to our motivation for seeking social change and the stories and experiences that shape us. Through the sharing of stories in relational meetings, we uncover self-interest and lay the foundation for an alliance.

Migrant Action Trust (MAT) shared with us their stories as individuals and as an organisation. Amie Maga, Manager, shared with us the stress and difficulty she experienced without a driver's license as a mother of three living in Auckland. While working for MAT, she herself benefited from the Trust's Puketapapa Community Driving School (PCDS) which is a driving school run by migrants for migrants and the wider community. Community members able to pay the full amount for a driving lesson enables the school to provide free lessons to migrants and former refugees who are unable to afford driving lessons.

Through regular community hui, Migrant Action Trust surfaces stories from the migrant community, and shape the focus of their advocacy work. At a recent community hui, it was identified that the indefinite closure of the Parent Resident Visa is a deeply felt issue in the migrant community. At the hui, Chris Christian, an Indian community member shared his story of lodging an application for his parents’ residency in May 2016 but in October 2016 Immigration New Zealand stopped processing under the Parent Resident Visa category. He is an electronics engineer working with a company designing emergency systems for New Zealand fire service. He is working to save lives of people in New Zealand but he felt that his parents were treated like unnecessary intruders to this country.

At the Te Ohu network meeting, Chris shared that his father had an iron deficiency, and as a result, Immigration New Zealand required several rigorous medical tests. After all the efforts they have been through and two and a half years of waiting, there is still no indication of what will happen to Chris' parent's application and the 5000 other families with applications waiting in limbo.

While not all organisations who become part of the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga Auckland alliance have migrant members, it is important that we can recognise the values that enable us to stand in solidarity in each other's concerns. Through the sharing of stories, we can relate to each other, not at an ideological level, but at a human, moral level. Then together we can stand in solidarity for the common good.


Upcoming events from member organisations:


Migrant Action Trust – Parent Resident Visa Core Team Planning meeting

24th May 5pm – 6pm @ Migrant Action Trust


NZEI – Auckland Teachers' Mega Strike March and Rally

29th May 11am @ Fort Street, City Centre


AAAP – Community Event Budget 2019 Not Enough Left

8th June 12:30 @ Wiri Community Hall



published A community alliance for Auckland? in News 2019-01-07 15:07:10 +1300

Why a community alliance for Auckland?


Sr Margaret Martin is part of Sisters of Mercy Wiri and has been engaged in social work and advocacy in the Wiri community for many decades. She is a trustee of Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga. Here is her reflection on why broad-based organising is important today, as we look to 2019.


When Annie Newman first canvassed the idea of forming a community alliance founded on broad-based organising I was keen to be involved. I got what she was talking about. I was aware of the Living Wage Movement and the principles by which it operates and the successes it has had in the space of 5 years.

I have lived and worked for over 30 years as a community social worker and advocate in Wiri, a community of need. I have worked with and alongside people, children and families, shared their struggles, hopes and disappointments. I have been involved with a wide range of groups, networks and committees all concerned with wanting to address the injustices and inequities that exist in our society and especially felt by the poor and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the efforts of many have not changed the landscape to any great degree, in fact, from where I stand I would argue in broad terms that that the issues of housing, welfare, family violence, justice, health, education and local community and neighbourhood issues are worse now than 30 years ago.

The neo-liberal ideology and market driven policies have weakened the role of government and civil society. The rich and powerful, the corporate elite are in control. We have all endeavoured over the years, in addition to continuing the day to day mahi of our organisation worked to effect change  through advocacy, submissions, media releases, protests, appearing before select committees, petitions, being members of advisory groups and neighbourhood and community meetings, for example. Sadly we have not made any overall significant change to reduce inequality and poverty in our land. So how do we begin to change this imbalance and successfully bring about long term social change?

I see the broad-based organising model as an opportunity to work differently – smarter and together. An opportunity to engage and be connected in relationship with a wide range of groupings; faith based groups, unions and community organisations. All coming together to build an organisation made up of many diverse organisations who share a desire to work for the common good - for social justice. Often by association our individual organisations can be seen to be in cohorts with local and central government who for many fund the work that an organisation does.

Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga is about a collective of organisations standing together and using our collective power to effect social change.  I see the broad-based organising model as a way of working for systemic and structural change without compromising individual organisations who have funding and working relationships with both local and central government.  

This model works in the UK, Canada, Australia and America. Surely, we can make it work here. What have we got to lose? I am hopeful that the time is right for our organisations to commit to being part of a new way of working that contributes to a broader based framework for the common good while at same time retaining our own identity as organisations.

The key to this model of working as I see it is engagement, being in relationship, building trust and a willingness to make a commitment as an organisation to be part of a broad-based alliance. Te Ohu is about speaking truth together as an organisation to those in power so that, to quote Pope Francis, both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth will be heard and working together we will change the ways things currently work or are structured.