5 minutes with…Serena Lal


Coach Serena Lal is of Fijian-Indian descent. Before starting her role with Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura she was working at the University of Auckland, one of her jobs there was tutoring first year pre-med to Health Science students.

When she first joined the university as a tertiary student, she thought the best way she could make a difference in people’s health was to become a doctor. After a few lectures she found herself more concerned with the health system and how it could be both an enabler and barrier to how people access health services. She transitioned her studies and began to focus on how she could support the health system, and support a changing social environment, to give everyone an opportunity to have good health. Serena graduated with a Masters Degree in Public Health with Honours and a Bachelors Degree in Health Sciences with Honours.

“I really do believe in the prevention and systems approach,” she says. “The idea of how we treat and create our environment around us, directly influences how we live and what our health is like. The needs of the community are best known by the community.”

Current Role:

“I am a Coach with Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura. I see the role as a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ – working with the community at grass roots level, looking at the structures above and below, working alongside industry and other stakeholders and, finding the cross-sections to help connect the different groups. I am in this job because I want to find out the reality of our community’s health, especially our high risk groups of South Asian, Maori and Pacific, and work with them for a community-led approach to health. I’m also here not only to find champions, but to be part of the process to create health champions who will continue and lead the mahi for their communities.”

Projects you are working on:

I have been working with the Ōtara Kai CoLABoration team. We are currently exploring ways to make seasonal produce more accessible by trialling an affordable produce bag called Ōtara Fresh. The idea is that the bag would contain all the vegetables you would need for one meal to feed 5 people for $5. It is accompanied by an easy to follow recipe and families just add meat.

I am also specifically looking into the health statistics for the South Asian community. We have begun building a map of what the life and health of South Asian descendants in South Auckland looks like and how we can work together for a solution to create better health outcomes.

What is your vision for health and wellbeing for South Auckland?

My vision would be that no one would have to make sacrifices to achieve good health. The families won’t have to choose between a good home, or a good meal, or the rent that week, that they can have it all.  That South Auckland’s environment would be conducive to health. And we would be excited about healthy lifestyle approaches without feeling we are compromising our culture or current practices.