A joint initiative launched in Eastern District three years ago to help young people realise their potential is continuing to bear fruit.
YES – Youth Exchange Support –- saw 10 boys aged 13-16 years from the district travel to Hawaii for an educational trip, aimed at helping develop leadership and communication skills, foster personal and cultural ties and look at challenges and issues facing young people.
The initiative - the brainchild of acting Sergeant Raj Cotter, while a Hastings Youth Aid constable - builds on Police’s Combined Adolescent Challenge Training Unit (CACTUS) programme.
There was significant input from Tairāwhiti Area Prevention Manager Senior Sergeant Lincoln Sycamore and Māori, Pacific and Ethnic Services (MPES) at PNHQ provided substantial planning support and advice for the project.
External support came from the New Zealand Defence Force, the United States Embassy, Massey University, Hawaiian Airlines, Covermore and Fonterra.
It was hoped participants would come home with a range of skills, inspired to better their life situation and learn way to take control of and manage their lives.
A debrief of the programme 12 months on showed great results, with two participants going on to become head boy of their respective schools.
Some were inspired to help their families improve their health and wellbeing, while others are embracing their culture. All participants felt a stronger sense of self-worth.
For one participant the journey has lead him to the Army.
When Anton Lologi joined YES, he was a shy Year 12 William Colenso College student, planning a future as an orchard worker.
But two years on he has just graduated from basic training in the New Zealand Army and is learning a trade, looking forward to learning new skills and planning on promotion.
“The YES programme was an eye opener for me,” says Anton. “It made me realise that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it.
“There were so many benefits of the programme. I built up leadership skills, made new friends and was given the opportunity to visit military camps in Hawaii.”
Anton says the experience also made him realise how important his culture is.
You could say the YES Programme has transformed Anton’s life.
And his advice for young people in a similar position to him when he joined YES?
“Always be motivated and hungry in achieving whatever your goal is. Stay positive.”
The US Embassy and US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Scott Brown, played a key role in making the trip to Hawaii happen.
“Being able to help young people see where good choices and hard work can get you is, I think, one of the most important things that we can do, as parents, as teachers and human beings,” says Ambassador Brown.
“I wasn’t so different from them when I was their age. I had someone who stuck their neck out for me and helped me see what I could do if I put my mind to it. Being part of doing that for other kids… magic.”
Ambassador Brown is looking forward to hearing more about how the graduates are doing and hopes to be able to catch up with them again before he leaves New Zealand in December.
And for Raj, now a District Ethnic Liaison Coordinator in Tāmaki Makaurau, the programme’s success is heartening.
“To see these young men transform over their time in Hawaii was incredible,” he says. “And now to see many of them really taking control of their futures makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
COVID-19 has put plans for another trip this year and possibly a visit to New Zealand by Hawaiian students on hold.
“There is so much opportunity with this initiative,” says Raj. “If the programme can inspire young people like Anton to realise their potential and follow their dream, then it’s all worth it.”
SEE ALSO - A big YES for leaders of the future (2017 Ten One story)