Brainwave Trust

Blending ancestral knowledge with scientific data

Greater good - Brainwaves trust - Huia Hanlen.webp

Blending ancestral knowledge with scientific data, Brainwave Trust has helped many whānau Māori to thrive. With the support of the MAS Foundation, the charity is now expanding their unique mahi to Pacific communities.

Ask Huia Hanlen what she’s learned over her years supporting whānau and their babies and her answer is simple. 

“There isn’t a parent alive, generally speaking, who does not want the very best for their tamariki. It just depends on what they have in their kete to draw from.” 

As CEO of Brainwave Trust, Huia and her team of dedicated kaiako, mentors and leaders often see first-hand how entrenched inequalities and lack of resources can impact families. 

But they also see solutions in action, the sparkle in the eyes when something resonates with parents in a wānanga and how reconnecting with the knowledge of ancestors can be life-changing. 

And when it comes to heartwarming work stories, they’ve got them in spades. 

“There was one particular piece of feedback that has always stuck with me,” says Huia. “It came from a man who was incarcerated, and he said: ‘I thought I was doing well by my kids by trying to toughen them up and prepare them for the world. So I’d leave them to cry when they got hurt, or I wouldn’t awhi them. Now I know that all they need is my time and my love.’ That just gives me goosebumps.” 

Brainwave Trust - Roimata Taniwha-Paoo and Huia Hanlen.webp

For Roimata Taniwha-Paoo (left) and Huia Hanlen, Brainwave’s mahi is all about empowering whānau.

Mahi with impact

From group sessions to educate families on the importance of a child’s early years to advocating for change in housing and education policies, Brainwave Trust works at both grassroots and government level. 

Wearing many hats and juggling multiple projects is all part of the job for the Brainwave team, but the goal is always the same: to support whānau to create the best environment to raise their tamariki.

A core aspect of the charity’s extensive mahi is the interactive wānanga with families, which position a range of scientific research and indigenous wisdom alongside each other.

Connecting through stories

As part of the wānanga, families are encouraged to share parenting stories, pearls of knowledge passed down from elders and experiences from their own tūpuna as parents. Whānau delve into the concepts and teachings that hold meaning for them, and stories are recorded as art pieces to talk through with their own children.  

“We call this he hīkoi mahara – this process of surfacing the stories that lie embedded in the memory and capturing those stories,” says Roimata Taniwha-Paoo. “Within that, we’re looking at things like mana, tapu, whakapapa, mauri. Then it’s about what do those concepts mean for us in this context? How does your whānau practise them?” 

Looking to the future, a new group of kaiako are currently in training to run the seminars with Pacific families. Supported by MAS, the new teachers will use similar methods to encourage talanoa (conversations) and learning in ways that resonate with a broad range of Pacific cultures.

The Brainwave Trust is proudly backed by the MAS Foundation

Head of Foundation Dr Julie Wharewera-Mika says, “The mahi and approach of Brainwave Trust exemplifies the values of MAS Foundation and aligns strongly with our pro-Tiriti pro-equity priority areas”. 

“As a Pacific mother myself, it is exciting that Brainwave Trust is providing further opportunity for our Pacific stories to surface which aligns with our MAS Foundation values” says Head of Foundation Mafi Funaki-Tahifote.