Changing the lives of taitamariki with aroha and opportunity
Te Kou o Rehua Panapa is an Aucklander who found his calling working with taitamariki/youth. He started out as a Te Pou Hāpai Māori/Māori Support Facilitator at Papatoetoe High School, before moving to Mā Te Huruhuru, a new ‘by Māori, for Māori’ youth organisation based in South Auckland, specifically designed to support young people in care. They provide work readiness, enterprise, suicide prevention, COVID-19 support and music programmes to build skills and provide opportunities for taitamariki aged 12-25.
When lockdown hit, Te Kou and the Mā Te Huruhuru team turned their focus first and foremost to the health and wellbeing of the 350 taitamariki in their database. “We set up a daily Whakamoemiti session on Zoom for 107 days straight, so our young people could have a space to pray, share and stay connected.”
Through those daily Zoom hui, Te Kou found out that a lot of the kids’ parents had lost their jobs and were finding it hard to make ends meet, so they started doing food parcels full of seafood like crayfish, oysters and mussels, designed by taitamariki. They delivered 1,500 food parcels, as well as healthcare packages and devices so the young people could stay connected.
Te Kou says weeks four to six of lockdown were the hardest on the mental health of taitamariki. “We were on call 24 hours a day for three weeks straight. When kids called up at 3am in a bad place, we were in the car on the way to their house to show them some love and give them support. It was all about just being present in their lives.”
Te Kou’s drive to help taitamariki has been shaped by his own lived experience and seeing the injustices and suffering the young people he deals with experience. “It’s a hard space to navigate – you’re dealing with a lot of different personalities. Our taitamariki now are so different from my time. So much is online and with social media, they’re in touch with a world I’m still learning about.”
“There is a whakataukī I love which is ‘Kaua e mataku i te tāngata’ meaning ‘never be afraid of people’. With the right mindset and a little bit of hard work, I believe that taitamariki are the masters of their own destiny; dreams are possible.”
Te Kou is making a genuine difference to the lives of so many young people. We had the pleasure of chatting to two of these taitamariki, Hakopa Pellow and Hayden Joo, to find out how their lives have changed since meeting Te Kou.
Finding a sense of belonging within Mā Te Huruhuru
“We met him in year nine at school and ever since, he’s changed everything.”
When Te Kou brought 15-year-old Hakopa and 16-year-old Hayden into the Mā Te Huruhuru fold a couple of years ago, they described it as “like walking into a second family – that’s how much they mean to your heart.”
The pair say school doesn’t suit some young people, and having a role model like Te Kou, and a safe space like Mā Te Huruhuru has given Hakopa and Hayden opportunities they would never have dreamed of.
“He’s helping us view the passing world as we go, and we can’t be more grateful for that. We don’t want to be stuck in a classroom looking down at a piece of paper,” Hayden says.
Hakopa describes how Mā Te Huruhuru supplies everything you could possibly imagine. “They’ve got art, a studio, an office and connections to a lot of big people. I got pulled out of school so I could go do courses and supply for my family. I want to do social work through art and music therapy – Te Kou is supporting me to do that.”
When lockdown struck, the boys speak about how much Te Kou stepped up. As well as organising kai parcels, he got the boys involved in delivering Christmas packs to whānau in need. “It gives you a rush being able to do that, it’s such an honour. You can end the day knowing that you’ve changed people’s lives.”
The boys agree that one of the best things Te Kou did for taitamariki over lockdown was start the ‘Nanny Show’, a daily Zoom show where he and a co-worker dressed up as old ladies and kids could join and have a laugh. They organised for influential people to come on the show, interviewing MPs, musicians and sportspeople, and asking them to say inspirational words to the taitamariki to keep them going through lockdown.
Hayden talks about the impact that had on him and others. “They saved lives with that show, believe it or not. Lockdown really hit everyone hard.”
It’s clear how much of a positive influence Te Kou has had on the lives of these taitamariki, not just those involved in the programme, but Māori youth at school too.
“Te Kou never went to university, but he taught us way more than any other teacher did,” Hakopa says. “He’s like an elder to us. We call him mātua. A lot of people tell you ‘take it slowly, don’t rush things’ but Te Kou says ‘boy you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to grab it because it’s not going to come to you.’ He says things straight up.”
“He really is an amazing guy. He’s always there for you and he’s changed so many lives.”
Tāmaki Pūkenga Rau