Good Practices

Rangatahi tū, rangatahi ora, rangatahi noho, rangatahi mate

Nā Shirley Johnson ngā kōrero e whai ake nei:

This is written with an intent to acknowledge, appreciate and share a success story of the Manawa Tū – Work for Life team. The story centres around Hogan, a young man in his early twenties of Ngāti Manawa descent who proudly lives within the Murupara community.

The team from COMET was deeply honoured to be invited to spend a day in May this year with Hogan, his workmates, and the Manawa Tū – Work for Life team.

The purpose of our visit was to hear more about Kia Whai Oranga — a programme designed locally by the Manawa Tū – Work for Life team to meet the needs of local people. While the Youth Employability Programme (YEP) provides the course with structure and activities, its heart, foundation, and processes are informed by Kaupapa Māori principles and practices.

The team is managed by an extraordinarily passionate, tireless, and determined wāhine toa, Gloria Newton. When I first met Gloria several months ago, I was impressed by her unflinching desire to create opportunities for the rangatahi of Murupara. Her team blazed with the same fire of determination to create new stories and pathways for their rangatahi.

My knowledge of the Murupara area was little more than a backdrop of intensely beautiful landscapes. I shamefully knew only fragments of the history that pointed to a staunchly resilient people forced to endure extreme adversity because of the loss of land and access to their resources over decades. The other centrally important information I learned, which provides an important backdrop to Hogan’s story, is Ngāti Manawa’s unflinching steadfast commitment to their cultural values, te reo and tikanga and how this has enabled them to endure, persevere and prevail.

Our arrival was met with warm greetings, filled with aroha and kindness. Despite travelling as a small humble group, Manawa Tū Work for Life Centre staff had organised a mihi Whakatau for us; we were honoured. Cultural values were richly embedded in all we experienced throughout the day, and care was taken to interpret and guide our understanding of local tikanga.

There was shared excitement and feelings of privilege as we climbed into the van to drive up to Rangitāiki Taniwha Trails, where the tāne were working. The trails are a 15-kilometre strip along the Rangitāiki River, and the plan is to connect this to the Whirinaki trails. As we drove through the ngahere, Erena Nuku shared with us some of the history of Murupara. Erena has the confidence of someone much older than her years, a maturity that is perhaps established from her strong connections with her history, her place and her mahi.

Erena explained that the programme begins with the tāne being taken into the ngahere. They are taken to the wāhi tapu sites, they learn about their ancestors, their history, and their connectedness with the place. They learn this is their tūrangawaewae — the place where they stand. This is where they belong. It’s who they are and it’s part of them as much as they are part of this place.

They learn about Kaitiakitanga — how Ngāti Manawa are the kaitiaki of the Tawhiuau maunga and Rangitāiki awa. They learn about the intricacies of the trees and the plants, the seasons and the rongoā — the power of healing that comes from the plants. They learn about the hauora of the streams, about the journeys of the tuna and about their collective responsibilities to look after these areas — for themselves; for their whānau; and for their Hapū, Iwi and Uri. Erena reinforced that supporting the tāne to strengthen their connections with their whakapapa and their tūrangawaewae was important to the success of the programme.

Erena shared that, as the tāne worked clearing the tracks, the mauri was being restored. As a result of the mahi, whānau were once again starting to use them to walk and get exercise. She said that seeing whānau enjoying the tracks had been a real motivator to the tāne as they hacked through the weeds and blackberry that have invaded the ngahere.

Later in the day, when I spoke to one of the older tāne working on the restoration project, he told me of his memories of days playing in the ngahere with his friends. For hours they would enjoy swimming and fishing in the clear waters or the streams and playing games and hunting in the abundance of the forests. The taking of the forests by the Crown changed this lifestyle for him and his whānau. He said it was deeply destressing returning to see the destruction, but very meaningful for him to be part of the restoration process.

We met Hogan and his mate Turua weed eating along the track. Hogan knew we were coming, but he continued to work, perhaps hoping we would decide to interview someone else. Ani Marsh, the programme coordinator explained that Hogan was a shy and humble young man. He did not feel particularly comfortable talking about himself, especially with strangers carrying filming equipment.

Ani jumped out of the van to talk with him. She clearly had an easy relationship with Hogan, built on a foundation of whanaungatanga, aroha (love, respect, and compassion) and Manaakitanga. Ani epitomised the staunch beauty and courage of a wahine of Tainui connections. Her community spirit and commitment made her a perfect person to coordinate the programme — although she would never admit to it, always using a collective “we” to include the power and multi-talented team she worked with. They worked together, knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and unquestionably had each other’s backs.

Hogan had unquestionable charisma. He was tall and fit, with the stance of someone who felt at home in the ngahere. He told me the work had been good for him. Previously alcohol and drugs had sapped his motivation; he had gotten lazy. He was now fit, had lost weight, and was getting stronger and clearer about who he was and the life he was wanting to create for himself and his whānau.

Hogan was proud that his younger sister, who was now doing the programme herself. His role modelling had inspired her to get involved. On the morning we visited, he had rung her up to encourage her to catch a bus for the first time ever so she could get to her work experience placement. He was determined that she would also graduate from the course, like he did.

I admired the way Hogan stood and talked to me. He also displayed a maturity beyond his years and demonstrated a mix of humility and staunch determination. He seemed to exemplify resilience. Despite the adversity he has faced, his connection with his whānau and community has helped him to stay hopeful and maintain his identity and cultural values. He thought that the course had helped to strengthen this, building a stronger belief in himself and possibilities. Having a job that would enable him to provide for his whānau was critically important to him. He wanted to be a provider and a protector of the people he cared about.

Turua shared that his dad had done the 12-week course with him, starting in October last year. He was proud of his dad; proud that he was choosing to upskill alongside his son.

Three kotiro also did the programme; Te Onira Heurea (17), Tunisia Rewi (17) and Te Awhiaahua Gavigan (17). Te Onira came to the programme having completed year 13 at school. She completed the programme with excellence. Te Onira did most of her work experience working as a receptionist and administrator. She has now got a seasonal job in a kiwifruit packhouse; however, her heart is still with upskilling to get a permanent reception job. The team continue to support Te Onira and were working on linking her onto a business administration training programme, with the hope this will help her get to the job she really would like to do.

Tunisia was not in education, employment, or training when she came to course. She was extremely shy, had low confidence and literacy. The team worked hard to support her build her confidence and self-esteem. Eastbay Reap, Murupara supported her literacy which enabled her to sit her learner’s license which she was successful. Tunisia was the youngest on the course, but the top performer, winning an award as the top student. Tunisia did her work experience hours in the local café, and her work ethic and attitude were excellent. While Tunisia has now moved to Wellington, the team remain in contact and continue to support her. She now applying for a job in hospitality which is the sector she really enjoys.

Te Awhiaahua (Awhi) also came to the programme following a period in which she was not in education, employment, or training. She had strong literacy skills and successfully completed her YEP Certificate of Learning, her First Aid certificate, and her Grow Safe certificate. Awhi complete graduating with a Licence to Work Certificate of Participation. Manawa Tu still maintain regular positive contact with her, Awhi has found a positive life pathway.

Gloria had her entire team, including herself, trained as facilitators to be able to deliver the Ultimate Edition of the YEP. Gloria felt it was important that they could all step in to run the workshops if needed and that they all understood and supported the kaupapa of the programme.

Kayla Kiore, who manages the administration of the programme, has also been trained as a facilitator. She oozes confidence and fun, and it seems clear that if she needed to step in to deliver a session, there would be no dropped stitches. She could facilitate effortlessly, with unquestionable street credibility challenges. She is someone with great compassion, but not one to be outmanoeuvred by excuses or half-hearted efforts. She champions having high aspirations backed up by great support to enable the tāne to reach these goals. Kayla understands that slip-ups are inevitable but should not be life-defining.

The 20 hours of group-work led by the facilitators created opportunities for self-discovery; learning about the employability and work readiness skills; and developing a unique voice, as well as learning about the voices and journeys of others. Most importantly, through the safe spaces created by the Manawa Tū – Work for Life team, the tāne and kotiro developed new thinking about what was possible, and how they could take charge to create the lives they want for themselves and their whānau.

All rangatahi completed 10 hours of voluntary work in the Murupara community and 80 hours of work experience in a range of local sectors, except for one. The majority excelled, completing extra hours, hours of voluntary work and frequently more than the required 80 hours of work experience. 14 rangatahi graduated with a Licence to Work with Excellence.

Yvonne Rurehe is the pastoral carer and the person who organised the placements. She describes herself as the “connector”. She has extensive networks around the region and was “blown-away” by the generosity and the kindness of the locals who provided the tāne and wāhine with good work experience opportunities. Yvonne says the connectedness of the community is a massive resource which has always helped them during the good times as well as the tough times.

Of the 22 people enrolled in the first cohort, nine of the tāne, including Hogan, secured ongoing work with Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Manawa to work on the Rangitāiki Taniwha Trails. The young men were interviewed and selected for this work based on their attitude and aspirations while on the pre-employment programme. The rest also went on to full-time study, apprenticeships, and other work opportunities. This was an incredible success story.

Our day came to an end with the tāne preparing us lunch, which consisted of freshly marinated barbequed venison sandwiches. It is a well-oiled process creating food in the ngahere. Everyone seems to have a role and just knows what’s needed to pull it all together. A Gordon Ramsay kitchen could not out-do the smoothness of the process. Sitting on the back of the Ute talking with the guys was a joy. Like on all good ‘tradie’ worksites, everyone was trying to outdo the others with good kōrero and a laugh about the craziness of life.

I talked to Hogan about gangs. He told me that gangs are a part of life but don’t put kai on the table. He is on the lookout for his next job, one in which he will be able to increase the amount of putea he is able to bring home to the whānau. He is a fine young man, and I am sure he will carve out a great future for himself and his whānau.

We farewell the ngahere, the Manawa Tū – Work for Life team and Murupara. This is an experience I will not forget.

If you heal the land, you heal the people… Erena N