The year that ...

Chris Far­relly, 66, Auck­land City Mis­sioner, on a year of big de­ci­sions

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - LAST WORD + QUIZ - As told to Paul Lit­tle.

In 2015, I had com­pleted 25 years of work­ing at the sharp end of health lead­er­ship in North­land. In this time I had been im­mersed in is­sues of in­equal­ity, in­equity and in­jus­tice. I was bat­tle weary from these years which in­cluded work­ing with those peo­ple liv­ing and dy­ing with HIV Aids and com­mu­ni­ties that dis­crim­i­nated against them.

Also dur­ing that time, I man­aged the hospi­tal in Dar­gav­ille that was un­der threat of clo­sure, with the com­mu­nity fac­ing ser­vice cuts. I came face-to­face with and felt the pain of poor Maori health and the lin­ger­ing im­pact of coloni­sa­tion. As a se­nior man­ager within the DHB, I ex­pe­ri­enced the pol­i­tics of the health sys­tem and my own job loss as a re­sult of re­struc­tur­ing.

And then for 13 years I led Manaia Health PHO, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that coura­geously grap­pled with health in­equity and worked to ad­dress the deter­mi­nants of poor health such as poverty and sub­stan­dard hous­ing.

Most days I felt I was go­ing to work to do bat­tle with mis­takes of the past, for and with peo­ple liv­ing in poverty and some­times with the health sys­tem. Con­flict seemed to be a part of my daily life and I took steps to move from sheer wit and “seat-of-the-pants” knowl­edge to ob­tain­ing a de­gree in con­flict res­o­lu­tion in or­der to gain more un­der­stand­ing and skills.

How­ever, de­spite these new skills, I needed to pull away from my day-to-day sit­u­a­tion and gain some space, dis­tance and per­spec­tive. That was in 2015. With my wife, I walked part of the Camino de San­ti­ago in Spain, vis­ited and ab­sorbed As­sisi and sat at the feet of one of the great dis­pute res­o­lu­tion prac­ti­tion­ers, Ken­neth Cloke, who started his jour­ney in the field with Martin Luther King.

This time away gave me per­spec­tive, a dose of cyn­i­cism re­duc­ing med­i­ca­tion and an in­sight to be less judg­men­tal and more prob­ing to un­der­stand “the is­sue be­hind the is­sue”, which is of­ten our­selves. It was a sig­nif­i­cant heal­ing and re-bal­anc­ing time in my life.

While on this jour­ney, I re­ceived a very un­ex­pected call from a re­cruit­ment agency to con­sider ap­ply­ing for the po­si­tion of Auck­land City Mis­sioner. I was aware of the amaz­ing work of the Mis­sion and its great lead­er­ship over the years, yet had never con­tem­plated a move to this place. While it was the fur­thest thing from my mind, on re­flec­tion, it was the clos­est thing to my heart and brought to­gether most as­pects of my life’s work hith­erto. My wife was part of my “Camino” and part of my de­ci­sion — and here we are to­day. The tim­ing was right.

Now I have been Auck­land City Mis­sioner for a lit­tle over two years and some of the themes from my early work keep re­cur­ring. Here we see jus­tice, in­equity, poverty and the re­sults of child­hood trauma. But we also see and ex­pe­ri­ence the very best of our coun­try; gen­eros­ity, com­pas­sion and the new ap­proach by many or­gan­i­sa­tions to work to­gether and make a dif­fer­ence. How blessed am I.

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