The latest COVID-19 community outbreak and subsequent alert level rise took its toll on all of Aotearoa, but was perhaps felt most by the community living in the heart of the storm - South Auckland

For Fa'anānā Efeso Collins, Auckland Councillor for Manukau, the Level 3 lockdown and surrounding media coverage was yet another reminder of the ongoing pressure on his South Tāmaki Makaurau community. 

“It's like this balloon that feels like it's filling with water and at some stage it might pop,” Efeso says. 

“It feels like there’s a hidden undercurrent of anger from outside of South Auckland, towards it. When we think back to what happened when we went into lockdown in August last year, there was huge anger and frustration geared at South Auckland. And this time around, in Papatoetoe [South Auckland]… A lot of us are looking to protect and defend ourselves from the anger expressed from outside.” 

For Efeso, a large part of the problem is how South Auckland is portrayed in the media and online, leading to further stereotyping and misunderstanding of what is a hugely diverse and varied community.

“The only time a camera crew comes out our way is when there's been something to do with a murder or youth gang activity, but I see exactly what people in my community are going through, and the lengths that they'll go through to make sure that kids get food to eat… I see people who just show a level of resilience and strength and fortitude that amazes me.” 

Efeso has been vocal in the media about the need for unity and compassion for one another in the face of the ongoing pandemic. 

“People may have felt like we've dropped the ball a little bit, [but] the reality is people make mistakes.” 

Efeso says he constantly receives emails and messages saying “piss off back to Samoa”, an unfortunate reminder to him that there’s racism in New Zealand that emerges during a crisis.

“Let’s not lose sight of that we’re a team of five million. If we're a team, [then] at the break, you gather everyone together, reset them, no one points fingers, you remind them of the game plan and then say right, we're back on the field again.”

Much of Efeso’s contact with his community comes from his time spent delivering food parcels to those in need. However, increased restrictions at Level 3 have made it harder than ever to maintain these connections. 

“One of our families we've been working with, they came out to us and you could see that they were dying to hug us. They wanted some human contact, [but] we can only come to the fence and hand the food parcel over.” 

For many families in South Auckland, a delivery from Efeso, often accompanied by his eight-year-old daughter, is the only contact they have with the outside world during a lockdown. 

“I want them to know we've got your back. We're in this together, and no one's giving up on each other.”

 For useful resources, advice and tips on how to look after yourself and support others around you as we navigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19, check out Getting Through Together.