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Source: Auckland Council

Anyone who knows Melissa Atama knows she is all about doing the mahi behind the scenes for her community – so admits being a slightly reluctant face in a photographic exhibition to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March. 

The mother of four, founder of the pride project in Clendon and recently appointed Manurewa Local Board deputy chair is one of the wāhine featured in Each for Equal: Our Stories, a collaboration between Auckland Council and Humans of South Auckland (HOSA).

The exhibition is on display at Auckland Council libraries in Manukau, Pukekohe, Henderson and Takapuna throughout March.

“It’s not my favourite photo,” she jokes of the image taken three years ago. “But I have known Maree (HOSA) for years and the work they do in showcasing the real-life stories of the people of south Auckland to build hope and pride is something I am totally on board with.”

Through the stories in this exhibition, people are invited to expand their idea of what it can mean to be a successful and accomplished woman.

It aims to builds hope and inspiration in our communities and encourage people to reflect on the role women play in our lives and in society.

What:  Each for Equal: Our Stories
When: 1-31 March 2020 during library hours.
Where: Manukau, Pukekohe, Waitākere Central (Henderson) and Takapuna libraries.

Community pride

Proudly raised in the south Auckland suburb of Weymouth, Melissa recalls a childhood of freedom in a community where she felt safe, rode her bike to the local dairy and played in flax bushes for hours on end.

Step forward a few years later she was living in neighbouring Clendon and the mood couldn’t have been more different.  

Here Melissa found a lot of great people, but their environment wasn’t – an unattractive town centre she and many others drove past to ignore the problems, where litter and illegal dumping was rife.  It it was a community without a heart, without pride.

“I decided I could just complain about it and ignore it or do something, so a few of us got together and started a movement I guess, starting with reactivating the Clendon Community House in Maplesden Drive.”

From humble beginnings Clendon Pride (now The Pride Project) was born and over the past four years initiatives have included community murals, a food forest, gardens, town centre clean ups and the popular Bilingual Hikoi to celebrate te reo Māori.

It also has a team of Hope navigators who mentor whanau one on one providing holistic wrap around support.

Just last month her efforts and that of the group were recognised by winning an ASB Good as Gold award worth $10,000.

Taking the lead

In 2019 people in the community convinced her to run for a seat on the Manurewa Local Board, seeing her as offering a ‘real voice’ of the community.

“I had to think about it because I am a busy mum and doing my community thing but the opportunity to bring lived experience of our community to the table and to ensure the decisions we make are in their best interest is exciting.”

She was under no illusion of what she was in for, with her mother Angela Dalton having chaired the local board for several terms and now a member of Auckland Council’s Governing Body as a councillor for the Manurewa-Papakura ward.

“Mum has always been about serving and making decisions for the best for her community and works incredibly hard, so I knew what I was in for.”

She says women have an important role to play in local government, bringing a different, more holistic view to decision making.

“Life isn’t black and white so decision making on behalf of our community needs to have a wider lens and an open mind, you have to ask yourself every day is this decision in the best interests of Manurewa,” she says.

“I am grateful for my community work it has given me a foundation to be able to engage with a wide range of cultures and backgrounds and it has taught me how to listen.”