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The Manalagi Project is New Zealand’s first Pacific Rainbow+ research project funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The three year project is led by Seuta’afili Dr Patrick Thomsen, a senior lecturer at Auckland University, and the Pacific rainbow research team.
It received $249,980 to produce a comprehensive report and recommendations intended to help improve the health and wellbeing of the Pacific Rainbow+ community.
New Zealand’s wider rainbow community was only included in the General Social Survey in 2018 and will be included for the first time in the 2023 census. Prior to the Manalagi Project, there’s been no research focussed on the Rainbow Pasifika community.
This creates a problem getting access to funding and appropriate services, says Manalagi associate investigator Phylesha Brown-Acton, founder of Pacific rainbow services organisation, F’INE.
“If you’re not seen within research you are invisible.”
The result of having no or inadequete rainbow health services has led to widespread experiences of discrimination in mainstream health.
“It’s been”, she says, “I don’t want to swear, but, crap.”
“When it comes down to it,” says Dr Patrick Thompsen, “our communities are the ones who are most likely to suffer violence, are most likely to experience things that can end their lives earlier than others.”
Phylesha, who’s worked with the Pasifika rainbow community for over two decades, observes that people in the Pacific Rainbow+ community only live to their 30s and 40s.
“They should be living to their 80’s and 90’s,” she says.
“We have evidence around us all the time,” says Patrick.
“All the stories that we all have listened to time and time again. But that evidence isn’t enough for our policy makers. And so that was where Manalagi came from.”
The Manalagi: Aotearoa Pacific Rainbow Health & Wellbeing Project, or Manalagi Project, has three phases; a nationwide community consultation, which informs a health and wellbeing survey aimed at collecting 500-1000 respondents, and documentation of 50-60 Pacific Rainbow individual narratives.
Manalagi, broadly translated, comes from two words known widely in the Pacific. Mana (spiritual authority, essence) from, and sanctioned by the heavens, (langi, lagi, rangi).
Patrick says, “This isn’t just a health survey. This is about uplifting our community’s mana and reminding our wider Pacific communities that our mana and their mana are intertwined.”
“The outcomes and the recommendations are going to be comprehensive and robust and authentic,” says Acting Pro Vice Chancellor Pacific, Dr Jemaima Tiatia, who’s also an associate investigator with Manalangi.
“It hasn’t been done before. I mean, we see pockets of statistics and information here then everywhere on different projects, but nothing wholly focused on the population.”
Feedback from the phase one community consultations led to a survey for allies and family being added, opportunities for creative storytelling and prioritising safety.
“We do ask the questions that need to have responses to data around, like instances of discrimination; overt, based on Rainbow, or race, or so forth,” says Patrick.
“And so, as a team we put in safety nets there. And they’re able to contact us at any moment if this does become overwhelming.
“Taking the survey is important, but if they want to be involved in sharing their story through individual talanoa with myself as the researcher, and maybe one of the other research teams, that’s also the next phase of the project.”
The Manalagi health survey launched in February, and is open to people over 15 until August 2022.
The project will produce a report that can be used to help access funding for services and support, or further research.
“I’m excited about what the community does with it as a lobbying tool,” says Phylesha.
“This is something I hope no longer gives anybody the permission to ignore Pacific queer, rainbow, LGBTQI+ MVPFAFF+ communities and our families.”
The Manalagi project has already led to funding for a docu-drama television series on the history of Pasifika rainbow people living in New Zealand. The series, called Manalagi, is a community collaboration project of six 24-minute episodes.
“I think one of the things that has probably prevented this kind of project from getting off the ground in the past is that I don’t think people have felt safe enough to be able to come out and say, ‘this is the research I’m doing because I belong to this community’,” says Patrick.
“And so what I’m hoping is that people can see that I’m here now; I’m well supported, and I’m making space for others.”
Find out more about the Manalagi Project or do the survey at manalagi.org
Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.