By Ruby Roache
Ko te pae tawhiti kimihia kia mau,
Ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina.
As you seek the distant horizons,
Hold fast to that which you treasure.

Nestled in the small rural town of Ōpōtiki our dream (moemoea) first came to fruition in 2005: a moemoea that acknowledged mana wahine and valued their role in society as te whare tangata, and key contributors to the lives of their families, children and community. A moemoea to inspire, and restore the wairua of women.

Through the collective effort of myself (kaiako), Faithe Hanrahan (ACE), Polly Green (administration) and the Ōpōtiki Māori Woman’s Welfare League, we gave the moemoea life. Today the collective has grown to include preschools (te pa harakeke), Quota Club, Country Women’s Institute, and HIPPY.

Celebrating the Opotiki Festival of
Adult Learning Ahurei Ākonga 2018

The name of our wharekura (classroom) and program is Te Puāwaitanga o te Kākano (TPOK). It is a name that was chosen by our students, capturing the perception of these women whereby, metaphorically they are the seeds that fell from the tree of life and didn’t initially germinate. Over time however, their seeds grew through nurturing and nourishment within the realm of whakawhanaungatanga and education.

The waiata He kakano ahau became like their national anthem. The words resonated with them and the different challenges faced throughout their lives – ‘my pride I will show, that you may know who I am, I am a warrior a survivor, He moerehu ahau’. When singing their waiata, tauira sang with pride, integrity, emotion and passion that stirred the heart.

The first delivery site of the programme, the Ōpōtiki Community Activities Office, was located within the grounds of the decile 1 Ōpōtiki College. At that time there was a strong relationship with the Ōpōtiki principal and staff. We were a community of educators dedicated to supporting adult learners re-engaging in education. ACE had 100 NCEA unit standards ranging from Level 1 to Level 3.

In the beginning, the mana wahine program was delivered prior to developing an educational pathway. We felt it was essential to assist the healing of the past for our wahine in order to help them continue into their future. I will never forget the comment a young woman gave when I asked her – what do you see your role as a woman to be? She looked at me and said, “His punching bag”.

The wharekura implemented tikanga me ona kawa which ensured a safe space for all. We developed responsive, reciprocal relationships built on trust and respect for each other and without any judgement. Wahine attended with their babies and when a mum was busy, other students stepped in and helped care for the tamariki. I often taught with a baby in a front pack, and enjoyed every moment. TPOK was an environment of learning that created an atmosphere that supported the social, cultural and holistic wellbeing of tauira.

The Ōpōtiki Māori Woman’s Welfare League purchased our first 10 laptops and continued to support those who choose the pathway into university by providing scholarships in the second year of study. Korowai were also available for those in need on graduation days.

As our individual seeds grew, so too did our student numbers. We soon became an education service delivered on a daily basis from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and also offered night classes to numerous whānau whanui (extended families). The subject matter delivered incorporated a myriad of topics ranging from horticulture, study support, tukutuku panels, korowai making etc. We became a hive of industry which met the needs of our community and supported their re-engagement into embedded literacy and numeracy education. Two classes were formed which led to both Faithe Hanrahan and Polly Green becoming part-time tutors to assist in our growth. Men and women of all ages now attended with different needs and aspirations for the future. We have grown into a team dedicated to the service of our people.

“He aha te mea nui he tangata he tangata”.

In terms of outcomes, many of our students have now graduated from university, polytechnics and other tertiary providers. They have gone on to gain employment within government departments, teaching (preschool, primary and secondary), and social services. They have become, hairdressers, horticulture managers, and even gone on to own their own businesses, and start apprenticeships.

Of course, as with any programme, we have had students drop out. However, we have always made it clear to all our students that the door of education would never be shut, and so have also seen many return over the years.

As a qualified teacher I took on the role of kaiako, sharing my knowledge while I also learnt from my students. This led to me writing a new curriculum for our adult education. My primary objective was to personally develop a framework surrounding how I delivered to tauira. This incorporated four holistic modes of tangata development: the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional.

The environment in which I stood became my classroom. I taught out of the boot of my car, in a whare kura, whare kai, wharenui, on the shores of the beach within the bush (ngahere) and many other significant learning spaces. Therefore, learning was achieved within a contextually relevant space: the ergonomics/mauri and ahurutanga supported the sharing of knowledge. Tauira experienced learning that was aesthetically attractive from a dimension more conducive to their approach to learning, different from the spaces in which they had previously failed.

More recently Te Puāwaitanga o te Kākano became engulfed in political turbulent seas of change. Whakatane High School and East Bay REAP came to our aid to ensure service delivery could continue, and we moved to our current location at the Heartlands Office.

Ruby and Dylan Franklan. He returned after
two years and gained his learner licence.

Over the past three years I have observed a large influx of rangatahi. They are younger, browner, very street savvy and are lost in terms of their value in society. These rangatahi have worked beside senior students transferring to higher education, continuing the enactment of the tuakana/teina concept of learning. Planning programs to meet identified needs became essential, mana aōturoa was the starting point to individual learning styles, and pathways. We developed our own andragogy that met the diverse learning experiences of participants.

Relationships with the learning community, marae and businesses were fostered to enable rangatahi aged between 16-19 years to re-engage in learning, noho marae projects, local history and work experience: Te Aho Kura Pounamu (Whaimutu Marino), Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (Piripi Christie, Rotorua Campus), Powhenua Trust (Horticulture), Project Based Community Learning, Marae Otuwhare, Opape, Roimata, met needs of tactile learning. Self-identity, genealogy, work experience, became embedded within unit standards and achievement standards. Students graduated from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa gaining passes in Kawai Raupapa Level 3 and Seniors Graduated NCALE Level 5.

Rangatahi spoke at a national level and shared their educational journey identifying how their social and cultural environment have impacted on their learning.

Over the past 14 years Te Puāwaitanga o te Kākano has become a programme that is organic and unique in terms of its conceptualization: it has grown from the seed that is born of greatness. Students have maximized their cultural capital within the hegemonic society they co-habit and the collective has been of service to the community, their whānau their people.

Whaia te pai tawhiti,
Tae noa ki te rama moa.
Pursue that which is beyond the horizon,
For there lies the infinite light.