Where are you from, Te Mania?
So my dad’s side, I’m Te Aupōuri and then on my mum’s side, I’m from Ngāti wai. And then on my grandmother’s side we’re from Ngāti Porou, so whānau all over the place. Born and raised in Papakura, then moved to Manurewa and then just moved back from Australia after many years. I moved for mahi and to experience a different life, but now I’m back and after five years, I am about to start my own family.
You work lots with rangatahi. Can you share what working with rangatahi and their families is like?
Rangatahi are a bit harder than our other clients because of the group mentality. If their friends are doing it, they’re doing it. They start at year 9 or 10, and that’s when you try to encourage them, because by the time they get to year 13, they’re already addicted and it’s gonna be harder down the track to quit. They have those incentives but some of them get the incentives, and then trade them for cash to buy ciggies. We’re trying to go more in depth as to why they smoke, try to support the whole group, not the one person. It can be hard when there’s that one negative person. It can bring the whole group down. Especially in South Auckland, it’s harder. They’re got that gangster mentality, that’s cool to smoke. So you’ve gotta change the way they think and feel. But that said, if you get one who the group respects, it’s easy. So we try our hardest, but it’s the groups they hang out with, they’re selling them at schools, it’s even harder. We’re not trying to force them, but we try to encourage them.
What has been your biggest learning so far in this mahi?
I think my biggest learning has been understanding the reality of what life is like for some people in our communities. The other day, we got a kid saying “Oh Miss, my mum gives them to me to smoke so I don’t steal them” so I dunno how we can compete with that. That’s the reality of life out here that many don’t see. Parents are actually trying to protect their kids because they don’t get caught up with the cops. Cigarettes are expensive, kids sell them. That’s hard, because it’s hard for youth to quit when they try to go home, and feel that they can’t say no because all their whānau question it. But we do try, we try our hardest. That was the biggest eye opener for me.
What do you love most about your job?
When you see the ones that are so keen to quit, it makes me so happy. They come in and they’ve got the biggest smile and they say “Miss, I haven’t had a ciggie today!” and they blow into the CO monitor and are so excited. I’m like “yeah!”. You try and talk like them so they don’t think you’re old, like you’re the mum [laughs] you gotta keep up with the kids! That’s why I have to dress like them, and work lets us. ‘Cause if you show up all formal in a uniform, they’ll shut down, they don’t wanna talk to you ‘cause you look proper. How you look is a way to connect with them. Some kids have said to me “oh miss, your job looks cool, I wanna help people too. How do I get a job like you?”. Then they come to our programmes here [at Te Kaha], they’re really inviting here, we don’t judge. They feel like it’s a safe place, so I love working here.
So what would you say to other coaches who are struggling in connecting with rangatahi?
Have an open mind. Let them speak. A lot of them feel like they get cut off. Let them tell their story and don’t tell them how to do it. They’ll shut down otherwise and that’s not just with smoking, it’s with everything. If you just yell at them, they won’t listen to you and will think you’re just another parent or adult. They need someone that will listen who they can trust. You can be any age, so it’s a myth you need to be young. It’s just about meeting them on their level. Talk the way they talk. Now it’s at the point with me that I hear too much! But the fact that they feel comfortable enough to share is a good thing.
As you start your own whānau and will soon have tamariki of your own, what has this mahi taught you that you’ll take on as a māmā?
Physically it is hard carrying [him] but I’m really excited, because what I’ve learnt here, I’m keen to pass onto my own child. I’m lucky in that my whole whānau are pretty youth oriented; my brother’s a teacher, my sister’s a youth worker, and my mum works here at Te Kaha. I’m really keen to see what my child has to offer to this world and what we can offer him.
I want to show him to be free, to learn, to be open minded because working in this space has taught me to accept people for who they are. And being an ex- smoker, I know the importance of not judging. Feeling that shame, but then knowing it’s not worth it.
These kids and whānau we work with- they’re just like the rest of us, and the biggest gift you can give someone is to accept them just as they are.