MYRIVR - your one-stop app about NZ
Picture caption: The MYRIVR team accepts the PBT Innovation Award in 2016.
As an ex-cop and gang member, Akerei (Rei) Maresala-Thomson has spent time at the coalface, witnessing the struggles and challenges many people in the Pacific community face in New Zealand.
After 12 years serving with the NZ Police, Rei resigned from his role as Senior Sergeant in Charge of the Pacific, Ethnic and Asian portfolio for Counties Manukau in March, 2017.
He has made it his mission to continue confronting issues, and trying to improve Pacific wellbeing in NZ – but this time he is using technology.
Rei is now the Technical Advisor for free app MYRIVR, a self-funded and volunteer managed concept from the community which was developed and released in 2015 by Corefusion Limited as MASA (Multi-Agency Services Application) to assist in a successful trial with Counties Manukau Police.
MYRIVR is now NZ’s largest in-app directory of community services, enabling visibility and instant access to more than 20,000 helpers and over 7,000 health and social services around the country.
Rei, a White Ribbon Ambassador says the app is built with the Samoan proverb in mind, “E fofo e le alamea le alamea. Solutions for issues within a community can be found within that community”.
The inspiration behind it is confronting.
“When my parents arrived in New Zealand from Samoa, they couldn't speak English, they didn't know what an IRD number was, they didn't know about financial literacy, or have their driver’s licenses,” Rei explains.
While there were many services in the community to help them to learn about these things, they did not know where to go for information, outside of the family.
“My parents like many other Pacific migrants to Aotearoa - the land of milk and honey - struggled while their kids watched helplessly.”
If left unaddressed, small things can escalate, people become desperate and this can result in tragedy, such as suicide, mental health issues, and domestic violence, Rei adds.
During his years of service in the Police, Rei says he never saw any evidence of suicide and homicide victims reaching out for Police strategies or policies before they died.
“But I saw plenty of evidence before they died that they had a cell phone and had tried to reach out for help whether it was via a txt, phone call, email or social media.
“I also saw too many people getting help after they committed a crime or were admitted to hospital after attempting suicide rather than asking for help before the incident.”
Most crimes are committed by people, who make a poor choice out of necessity and desperation, Rei says.
“I saw a lot of men that wanted help but couldn't afford the expensive programmes to mitigate their anger or addiction – it is cheaper for them to beat their wives, pay court costs and get free counselling as part of their sentence - this is not right.
“I also saw a lot of good services closing down because they couldn't get numbers to attend their free programmes like ones for acquiring drivers’ licenses, and the main reason for this is the lack of visibility.”
Strategies and policies are great but technology through practical tools like MYRIVR app enables these ideas to become visible, Rei continues.
Access to this knowledge empowers the community to self-manage and own their own solutions rather than relying on the state to do it for them.
“When governments change, we have a constant evolution of changes to policies, strategies and funding so our community needs resilience that enables them to be adaptable to changes and broken promises.”
Rei designed the MYRIVR concept with youth gang members, victims, offenders and frontline health and social workers, eventually joining forces with Corefusion Limited Directors Elia Chan and Robert Perelini, who threw everything into its development, and the app was made free to the community.
In 2016, the MYRIVR team was recognised for its hard work when it won the Pacific Business Trust Innovation Award.
The team believe everyone in NZ including tourists should download MYRIVR as a free health and safety/wellbeing resource tool to mitigate the risk of becoming a statistic.
With increased immigration numbers to NZ, there is the risk of people becoming statistics due to a lack of knowledge about common laws and how to navigate services when needed.
“We believe MYRIVR has the potential to consolidate every outdated directory of health and social services which are mainly designed for frontline workers - it needs to be visible, available and accessible to the public.”
Recently, Massey University’s Knowledge Exchange Hub has selected it as part of their data collection tool for a five year research project which builds algorithms that help predict offending.
“This is huge in terms of being able to prevent people reaching that crisis point,” Rei says.
MYRIVR is also gaining recognition abroad, with Washington DC-based Stop the Violence, Stop the Silence, which has 22 locations globally, endorsing MYRIVR and the organisations are currently working through their global partnership.
The MYRIVR team also hope travel agencies and airlines might work with them to promote this free tool so people can orientate themselves with the common laws, road rules and how to navigate our countries services.
Currently, the MYRIVR team volunteers their services, but as the tool grows and evolves, they are seeking funding to continue improving this great service.
To download the app, visit MYRIVR.