In a recent hui with the Counties Manukau smokefree team, we were struck by their enthusiasm and passion for our kaupapa. With this, we wanted to interview one of their ‘newcomers’, Saini Semisi, for whakawhanaungatanga, and her team mate, Gloria Onelino, who brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role. It’s always really exciting to welcome new colleagues to our smokefree whanau, full of passion and ideas, working alongside those who have the experience and insight. We’re excited to see where the Counties team goes this year, and how the skills and talents of Gloria and Saini are utilised.

Ko Rangituhi te maunga
Ko Porirua habour te awa
Ko Samoa te iwi
Ko Porirua te turangawaewae
Ko Gloria Onelino ahau

I’m Samoan, born and raised in Wellington. My parents are from Samoa and migrated to Aotearoa in the 70’s. My partner is from Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi and we share 3 children together.
This is my 12th year in the Smokefree Sector! I started off at Quitline, moved to Auckland and worked at the Maori NGO ‘Raukura Hauora O Tainui’ and now currently working for the Living Smokefree Service.

Kia ora koutou, my name is Saini Semisi. My Mum is from Samoa, my Dad is from Tokelau. I was born and raised in Auckland, most of my life in West Auckland but now living in Otara. I have been in the Smokefree sector for 5 months and am currently working for CMDHB as a Smokefree Advisor. Before that I worked at the Waitakere Campus - Te Wananga o Aotearoa.


You support the South Auckland community, which is really diverse and dynamic. What values do you bring to your work when supporting them?

Gloria: We reflect the community we serve. I think that’s important and something we need to prioritise more in this work- do you actually look like and belong to the people you are supporting? Look at us [laughs] we’re brown, and that’s a good thing. It’s obvious when you show up to someone’s house and they’re a little nervous. They see us and breathe a sigh of relief because we’re automatically able to relate.

Saini: Yeah exactly, and not just in who we are, but little things like how we dress and talk. That’s why we can dress casually at times and know how rangatahi speak [laughs]. We say that we operate through an ‘equity lens’ but that’s more than just words. We go the extra mile for people, like that koro down the road - we’ll follow up more with him and give him the support he needs.

We build relationships with everyone we interact with. Build trust and get to know people, but overall just treating people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, with respect.


What are the biggest barriers that you see in your community and how do you navigate those in helping with their smokefree journeys?

Saini: Stress is a common answer I get when asking people. It is the biggest reason why someone starts smoking, why they keep smoking and why it’s hard for them to stop smoking. Cigarettes are a survival mode or a coping mechanism. It’s hard hearing some will forgo kai in the pantry for ciggies but that’s the reality for many in our community.

Gloria: It’s also so available, we know people smoke more when they drink and there’s a liquor store on every corner in our neighbourhood - I can count them in my head.

For us to support them, I think it’s about us being creative and findings ways to counteract that stress. For example our incentive programme helps those for which money is a stress. People are also just people and need someone to talk to. Being able to be there and listen goes a long way. We avoid being clinical. It’s about knowing them as people and not making assumptions.


What system changes do you think we should make to improve the support your community receives?

Gloria: It’s hard having built such a strong connection with these whānau- especially with the ones that are shy. Often they’ll ask “can you just stay on and help me with x, y, and z?” The issues that surround smoking are so complex - mental health, employment, housing, relationships. With us working and living in the community we understand the issues people face. Having established good relationships with a wide range of health and social services within the Counties Manukau district we are able to support whānau to address them.

I met a mum who was referred to our service who had complex needs that were not being addressed by health services. She was not feeling listened to, so with her consent I advocated for her and supported her with her health literacy and got her access to social services, she was just so grateful because that wasn’t necessarily in my ‘job description’ but she could see I went the extra mile.


What do you love most about your work in the smokefree space?

Gloria: The stories keep me going. I’m not there to tell them what to do, I like being a sound board to listen and to be there as they become empowered to make their own decisions. It’s most rewarding when they are finally smokefree- they made it because of their own hard work.

Saini:  When people make their decision to quit smoking, I love that we are the ones that can help the chances of making that happen, because it isn’t easy. Through the relationships we build, the conversations we have and the resources we give - all go hand in hand to supporting people succeed on their Smokefree journey. That makes me so proud!