Serving the Asian community “from their hearts”

When you’re alone, unwell and don’t speak English, it can create real anxiety and leave you feeling like there is no support available. The Asian Health Services team, which is part of Te Whatu Ora – Waitematā, helps to ensure that people receive the health support they need in a range of languages.

Operations Manager Grace Ryu began volunteering at AHS in 2004 and her own experience as a new migrant helped her to understand what others might be going through.

“We started with a small team, with lots of volunteers at North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals,” she said.

“I found it delightful and was very proud to be a volunteer. I learnt so much and making many friends from different backgrounds really enriched my life.”

Asian Health Services provides a range of support for migrants and former refugees who have cultural and language barriers, including patient support, mental health services and 24/7 interpreting services that cover up to 90 languages.

Arriving in New Zealand as a young migrant, Ryu is all too aware of the struggle and isolation one can experience when moving to a new place.

“It can be a very stressful time, settling in a new country. All migrants have a tough time,” she said.

“Later, when I was a single mother, my colleagues at Asian Health Services, the Māori Health team and the Pacific Health team next to me at the hospital were so supportive. They became my New Zealand family and Asian Health Services became my second home.”

The support she received motivated her to provide better services for her fellow Asian community across Auckland and she has now been working with Asian Health Services for over 17 years. Her aim is simple: to work towards more equitable healthcare for Asians of all backgrounds.

“We work really hard and in such a supportive environment. It’s really great to see all the progress we’ve made to support Asian health and wellbeing,” she said, reflecting on her tenure.

“We were – and still are – the only Asian-specific health support service in the entire country.”

The pandemic saw her team busier than ever, as the community began coming to them with a plethora of issues, from welfare needs to support for booking vaccinations and setting up vaccine passes.

One story out of the many that Ryu remembers, is a single mother who had tested positive for COVID-19 and was home with a newborn baby.

“She rang us crying saying that she had nothing. She had no food, no RAT kits, no medicine. She didn’t even have nappies or formula. She was really in a difficult situation as a new mum.”

Although a little out of their usual remit, her team worked quickly across the health agency and reached out to a pharmacy and community connectors to help the new mum out.

While Asian Health Services operates out of Auckland, the team started receiving calls from across the country, including from Palmerston North, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin.

Her team soon realised that they needed to create a national helpline so everyone could access their services without having to pay calling rates.

Ryu said that she feels lucky and proud to have such a hard working team.

“Some days we don’t have enough staff to do it all. But to them it’s more than their job and they do it from their hearts.

“Our reward is in people’s feedback. When they say ‘you genuinely helped me/my mother/my father’, that’s our recognition.”

If you or someone you know needs health information and support or guidance, Asian Health Services is available Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm and Saturday and Sunday 9:30am-2pm on 0800 88 88 30.