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By Tara Carr

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Aug. 20) – Domestic violence and alcohol abuse are two major issues faced by the people of Palmerston, as identified by a team that travelled to the island to raise awareness on mental health.

[PIR editor’s note: Palmerston Island, about 300 miles northwest of Rarotonga, is a low-lying atoll in the southern Cook Islands group, where Capt. James Cook went ashore in 1777.]

The team of mental health workers including Te Kainga's Mereana Taikoko, Rarotonga hospital's Dr Rangiau Fariu and Madeleine Metcalfe travelled by boat to the island in June to carry out a mental health training and awareness workshop.

Of all the islands the team has visited so far, Taikoko says Palmerston was the most challenging - just getting there was a challenge in itself.

"The idea was to expose them to as much of the information that we had as possible. Some of them were finding it hard to take it all but because it was really hard to get to them, we wanted to tell them as much as we could. But at the same time we wanted to give them the opportunity to carry out their own work during the day, like catching parrot fish for export to Rarotonga," says Taikoko.

She says that the people of Palmerston, a total of 31 people took part in the workshops, appreciated the visit they made.

An action plan has been established by the participants - they want a mental health and alcohol support group, mental health workshops twice a year, funding from government for assistance to stop smoking and drinking as well as to prevent child abuse.

They also want a doctor to visit them twice a year and the people made the most of the visit by Dr Fariu.

The visit was funded by New Zealand Aid. Taikoko had applied for a total of $75,000 to ensure that visits could be carried out to all the northern group islands.

Te Kainga received funding for $40,000. "This sort of support though, we are extremely grateful for. It is great when New Zealand Aid recognises the importance of our efforts in educating our people about mental health," says Taikoko.

Altogether, there were six in the team. After spending two nights at sea, the boat arrived in Palmerston and they were able to put their feet on land. The following week they ran half day workshops over the five days.

The NZAid funding has been used to carry out workshops in Atiu, Mauke, Aitutaki and Mangaia (all second time visits) as well as Mitiaro and Pukapuka (first time visits). Three small workshops were also held here on Rarotonga.

Taikoko says that each of the islands they visited have asked for a return visit.

While she would love to visit all the islands again, the priority is with islands like Pukapuka, Manihiki, Rakahanga and Penrhyn who were first visited way back in 2005.

"We are hoping for further assistance to enable us to do this. They want us back there. All the islands understand how important this all is, so we keep hoping for more assistance," says Taikoko.

She says that with the islands they have revisited this year, the people are more aware of the issues and are more keen to develop their own ways of targeting and dealing with those issues.

"They still want us to go back and give them that guiding hand, show them support and offer them confidence to carry out what they want on their islands," says Taikoko. .

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