In the last 12 months Te Ara Rangatahi has engaged over 500 vulnerable young people and helped them first discover and then realise their dreams.

Te Ara Rangatahi is a charitable trust based in Waiuku. Their programmes cover the wider Franklin area south of Auckland.

The trust was established by the rangatahi of Ngāti Te Ata in 2015. They came together to discuss what they could do for their iwi (which has over 60,000 uri), and after a number of hui they decided on starting the first two of their three integrated programmes: Tū Māia and Mahi Gains. A third programme, Mahia Te Mahi was started just recently in response to the need for pastoral care for those in training, education or employment.

Māhera Maihi, who has been the CEO since 2017, says that their aim is to lift the aspirations of their rangatahi and to make sure that the programmes remain relevant. So all of their programmes are co-designed. It’s a process that clearly appeals to the rangatahi: “We don’t have any difficulty recruiting,” she says. “We only take ten on Tū Māia and Mahi Gains and five on Mahia Te Mahi – and all our programmes have a waiting list.”

The recruitment process for Tū Māia involves going into the local high schools as well as finding places in the community where young people gather, like the local youth hub or a local youth health organisation. Anywhere where there is free Wi-Fi is a good place, because that’s where they know young people go. Rangatahi can either sign up when the coordinators have finished their 20 minute pitch (which explains the programmes and gives some past testimonies), or they can register on the Te Ara Rangatahi website or Facebook page.

“When we start Tū Māia,” says Māhera, “we ask the rangatahi – what do you need to be motivated and inspired to unlock your potential? There are nearly always five different kinds of answers: they need family support, mentors and role models, travel outside the region (many have never done this), music, and exposure to new experiences. So these are the broad themes of the Tū Māia programme.”

The programme runs for six-weeks. The aim is to help rangatahi discover their pathway and grow their leadership skills. They have a mentor and on one of the weeks they have a trip to somewhere in Aotearoa to meet entrepreneurs, leaders and inspirational speakers.

When the rangatahi move onto the Mahi Gains programme, and most do, the coordinator of that programme has the goals that they developed during their time in Tū Maia so the focus is on helping them find, prepare and enrol in a formal course that will get them along their pathway, or taking them on trips to workplaces and doing the cv workshop – everything that will make them employable and work-ready.

Evaluation is built into the whole process. “All of our coordinators are rangatahi,” says Māhera, “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ because we are ‘them’ – so together they regularly reflect, self-reflect and evaluate their programmes. We also do an end of the year review of each programme to make sure that what we are offering is still relevant.

“Because some of our rangatahi are still at school, we hold Tū Māia and Mahi Gains outside of school hours. We always work around their commitments. We want to break down any barriers to their attendance. All our programmes are free, we pick them up from their homes and we always provide kai. Whānau are always invited to our events and the graduation parties. And all of our programmes are infused with Māori components. Rangatahi learn pepeha, whakapapa, waiata, te reo, karaka and more specifically, on our Iwi Think Tank programme, kaumatua teach them Ngāti Te Ata history and they walk up our maunga and come up with iwi-enhancing initiatives like a recent colouring book that we have published.”

The courses used to be on the marae, but now, because they need more space, they are run at the Waiuku Business Park. In the last 12 months Te Ara Rangatahi have engaged 507 rangatahi touch points. This include: drivers licences, short NZQA courses, CV workshops, interview workshops, 1:1 support, workplace insight trips, career expos, and education provider insight trips.

Dena Maree Hemara, who is now the coordinator of Mahia Te Mahi, started at Te Ara Rangatahi as the coordinator for Tū Māia. She says that over the course of their time with Te Ara Rangatahi she sees big changes in the way the young people present themselves and in their behaviour: “When they get a sense of direction, and develop their goal they get hope. They know that it won’t be easy to achieve their dreams, it will be a lot of hard work, but we are always there to help them. One rangatahi, for example, who was kicked out of school three times came to us and we looked at what he was really passionate about. It was music. So we helped him to get into the Mainz music school in Auckland where he is now doing a Level 3 Foundation course in music. He has a mentor who is helping him get his assignment in and uploaded the right way. Now he turns up every day. He is thriving.

“The support we provide for each rangatahi depends on their particular need. A lot of our rangatahi have whānau with very limited financial resources so we can help them by providing them with things like clothes for jobs. Whatever the need. There is a fixed sum that can be spent for each rangatahi, but we are never not able to provide the support they need – financial, emotional, spiritual and of course cultural. When they come they are often not comfortable with the skin they are in. When they learn their genealogy they feel connected.

“While the programmes attract both young women and young men between the ages of 13-26 it is the males that usually need much more support. Once the girls get what they need and are confident they don’t need us as much. The boys are often challenged by behavioural issues. Many of our rangatahi come from families that are struggling financially and I think that one of the things they really like is knowing that no matter where they are going there is always good quality kai!”

Te Ara Rangatahi is now funded by Foundation North, Te Puni Kokiri and the Department of Internal Affairs. “When we first started,” says Māhera, “we had multiple small funders, but we couldn’t rely on getting the money we need. Now we have more certainty. We have also costed the Tū Māia programme and Te Oranga Tamariki will pay for the cost of a package for a particular rangatahi.”

Jayden Hiku
They’ve helped me get qualifications. I’ve got my driver licence, my forklift licence and health and safety. They’ve helped me get to where you are meant to be: to do better things. They have changed me a bit. I am surer now. I am not the angry person that I used to be. They understand me and showed me a positive way. It is now up to me to make things happen. I want to get into construction and achieve my goals that I have put in place. And they are good fun people to be around. They showed me other ways to make me happy. I want to be the best I can be.

Metiria Taylor
I started the programme because I wanted to get my driver licence. Tū Māia was eye-opening for me. A new experience. I’ve made friends with different people and I have tried new things. I didn’t have a dream job at the start of the programme, but what I actually want to do is travel. I am 16 and still at school, so I take Tourism. I never wanted to pursue dreams, but now that I have worked out what my dream is I know what to do.

I love the Tū Māia programme. I was not really a confident person, and I didn’t know how to express what I felt. Now I can. They have taught me how to be outside my comfort zone and work out what I
want to do with life.

I am way more confident in my culture. I didn’t express my culture to be honest. Now I love it. I am learning te reo and use it when Ican. It makes me feel happy to be a Māori person. Now I realise how important our culture is.

Te reo Māori translations – for those of us that need it
ara - path
uri - descendant
tū - stand
māia - courageous
mahia - do the Work
pepeha - a person’s historical relationship to tribal geographical locations.