Volunteer and offender weaving a wahakura bassinetPregnant mothers on community work sentences in Gisborne are assisting midwives and some at-risk mothers to create safe sleeping spaces for their babies.

Pregnant mothers on community sentence are getting involved in a local project, helping young at-risk mothers make traditional Maori flax bassinets for infants up to 5-6 months of age. The bassinets, known as ‘wahakura’, are then donated to Gisborne Hospital. A hand sewn mattress is placed inside the wahakura and can be covered with their choice of material.

The wahakura project is not just for pregnant offenders, but provides them with a means to complete their community sentence in a positive and productive way instead of doing manual labour in a work party. They can gain valuable work and living skills while helping young at-risk mothers in their community and are also given the chance to make a basket for their own babies.

“Making the baskets is more than completing a community work sentence,” says Stephney Grayndler, Senior Community Work Supervisor, Gisborne Community Corrections. “The offenders find the flax weaving cathartic and therapeutic and begin to open up and feel comfortable asking personal questions about childbirth and parenting.”

Offender Bridget* was an experienced weaver before joining the project, but said she learnt lots and totally enjoyed it as she had never made a wahakura before.  She gave up drinking and encouraged her other whanau to come down and help make the wahakura. 

Offender Sarah* was not keen when she first started with the project.

“At first I did not think it was really me, but after a few sessions I totally loved it. I started going down every day and even asked to be transferred to complete the rest of my (community work) hours there.”

“Helping these women to help themselves provides them with a sense of worth as well as valuable parenting knowledge and makes them less likely to re-offend,” says Leanne Forward, Acting East Coast District Manager. “The project is not only helping these mothers to learn and prepare for motherhood,  but also gives them a sense of pride as they provide a positive contribution to others in need in their community.”

For the sentence of community work, offenders do unpaid work in the community to pay something back for the offence they have committed. It also gives offenders an opportunity to take responsibility for their offending and learn new skills and work habits.

The project participants also make epu whenua (a container to put placenta in which is then buried), muka cord (used to tie the cord instead of the plastic peg used in the hospitals because of its healing properties), nappy baskets, backpacks and waka wairua (caskets for the babies that don’t survive).

Other community work parties throughout the region are involved in harvesting the flax for the project and low risk offenders also help with the preparation, cleaning and boiling of the flax for the project.

*names have been changed