Cyclones and frosty mornings couldn’t deter a hardy bunch of rangatahi from completing the eight-week ATAWHAI Youth Programme in Tairāwhiti.
ATAWHAI is a community solution developed out of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou to invest in the potential of our leaders for tomorrow. The founder of ATAWHAI was Doctor Apirana Mahuika, who gifted the whakatauki ‘E tu ki te kei o te waka kia pakia ai koe e nga ngaru o te wa’ (Stand at the stern of the canoe and feel the bite of the future on your face).
The programme and other youth mentoring programmes are run by ATAWHAI Charitable Trust. ATAWHAI is aimed at intermediate-aged rangatahi rather than high school students and focused on keeping students positively engaged in education.
The inaugural programme was in 2013 and has been reinvigorated in 2023 by former Army intelligence operator and Commissioned Officer Kumeroa Papuni-Tuhaka, with support from local police officers, Operation Kōtare police staff from out of town, Fire and Emergency NZ staff, Māori Wardens, Te Haahi, and aims to develop positive relationships with tamariki, their whānau and partners in the community, while building fitness and discipline.
At 6am, three days a week for eight weeks, 27 tamariki and their adult supporters have pounded the pavement and undertaken activities to push them outside their comfort zone. (You can watch some of the activities and challenges they tackled in the video, below.)
Gisborne Community Constable Rangi Kingi says connecting with tamariki at intermediate age and building strong positive relationships is so valuable.
“We have seen the growth in these tamariki through the programme, stepping up and starting to believe in their ability,” says Rangi.
He admits running a programme for 11 and 12-year-olds is quite different to running one for 15 to 17-year-olds with many struggling to stay focused.
“We ensure we keep them busy throughout each session. We’ve found games are a great way of getting them active without them realising it and still having fun.”
With the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle still apparent in the region, it was important to get some normality back in the lives of tamariki.
However, another weather bomb at the beginning of July forced the postponement of the 'Longest Day’ where participants are put to the test physically and mentally for several hours before graduating from the course.
Inspector Whiti Timutimu and chair of ATAWHAI charitable trust is proud of the 27 students who graduated from the programme. It adds to the 550-odd students before them who have been part of previous programmes.
"This can’t be done without the many hands and we’re so happy to have restarted this programme after the break during COVID," says Whiti.
"There are many challenges our rangatahi have to deal with, this will embed the ‘grit’ to keep getting up and pushing through.