In 2012 four local Māori organisations in the Wairoa district, led by the local kura and including Te Ataarangi, came together with the Human Rights Commission to work on Wairoa Reorua 2040 – a strategy designed to set Wairoa on the path to becoming fully bilingual by 2040.

Five years later the Wairoa District Council approved their Te Reo Māori Policy – the first council in the country to do so (a matter of pride for the community). The policy had been developed by the Council’s Māori Standing Committee and was designed to develop and promote te reo Māori throughout the organisation. Following public consultation, it was approved.

Te Ataarangi, which has been delivering community language classes in the home, marae and from their centre for over 30 years, as well as the local kohanga reo and kura kaupapa are all well-established language nests in the community.

Now Tairawhiti REAP is making a significant contribution towards the achievement of Wairoa Reorua 2040: it is providing a te reo Māori course that is consistently attracting high numbers – and tapping into those in the community who are wanting a less informal class and a shorter-term commitment.

The REAP course is for two hours a week in the evening – over ten weeks.

Hine Flood, Te Temu-Hapori/ Community Education Facilitator at Tairawhiti REAP’s Wairoa office, puts a lot of the success down to their tutor:

“His name is Rangiteaorere Hepi, affectionately known as Maatua Rangi. He grew up in te reo. He is Tuhoe with a very strong dialect. He works as a kaiako at a local kohanga reo and is very advanced in his tikanga and reo. He is often called upon from around the country to advise, facilitate and teach others. Yet he is still willing to deliver a basic te reo course like ours. His mantra is – ‘We need to ensure that people find a love of the language when they start learning te reo. and if we achieve that, the revitalisation of our language stands a better chance!’

“By providing a safe and fun learning environment, Matua stimulates the love of the language with our ACE learners – you just can’t avoid it in his classes.

“He captivates the class as he recalls stories of his childhood growing up in Ruatahuna with his parents and siblings and the transition to urban New Zealand (Wairoa). He knows a plethora of other languages that he can call on to share his worldly experiences and knowledge with our ACE learners. It’s impressive. So, for example, he can help our Asian students see the connection between their language and ours. He is teaching a language, a culture and tikanga. He speaks of local history. He can help you trace your lineage to help you feel comfortable in a mihi mihi if you don’t know your maunga, awa or marae. It’s empowering. And he keeps the class within people’s comfort zone. He gives you permission to get it wrong every now and again, which is a big part of people’s fear – both for non-Māori and Māori. You can see when they first come through the door, they are quite anxious. But we see their inhibitions disappear. It is quite rewarding for Tairawhiti REAP as the provider – and of course for our tutor.

“Our class attendance is consistently high with students eager to know more. They don’t want to miss a beat. They are learning fast, keeping our tutor on his toes.

“Part way through the course, people are already asking – what next? They don’t miss a class and they want to keep learning.”

Wairoa’s population is 60 percent Māori. About a third speak some form of te reo. The REAP programme is proving particularly attractive to a mixture of Māori and non-Māori – like young mothers wanting their children to go onto Kura Kaupapa – grandmothers wanting to support their mokopuna in kohanga reo.

Promoted on the town’s most popular social media site – Wairoa Buy and Sell – the REAP programme regularly gets up to 50 enrolments.

“People can enrol online and tag friends and whānau,” says Hine. “They don’t have to talk with anybody. This platform reaches our target audience like no other communication strategy that I know of. It just does and it’s so refreshing to see locals engage, have a korero and commit with such ease. There is no inhibition to engage.”

Because the enrolments are now too large to be accommodated in the REAP offices, the course, now in its fourth year, is delivered in partnership with the Wairoa Tai Whenua.

The evaluation forms tell a positive story: people write about how the course has improved their basic reo and some even their mental health and wellbeing – they have learned something that makes them feel good. They have made new friends. They feel inspired to learn more; they are more confident about engaging with their children’s or grandchildren’s learning.

“That’s what REAP provides for this community,” says Hine, “and we are really proud of it. We know that ACE provides a stepping stone to move onto something else, to train a level up, but some people are not ready for that. They don’t want to do a NZQA course. They just want to come back and do the course they enjoy again and learn more. TEC ACE funding, which is for basic level te reo, doesn’t allow us to do that. We would love to offer a more advanced programme, but we can’t. It seems a shame when people are so eager to learn. For a rural community like ours, having a more flexible approach to funding would make a huge difference.

“Our community knows that the ACE approach works too. The other day someone said to me – I saw all the cars parked outside Tai Whenua last evening. You must have had a te reo class!”

Louise Rewi (Ngati Kahungunu), is a supermarket Store Manager
“I learned te reo at primary school, but then I lost it. I have done other te reo courses, but I got bored. This one I look forward to going to. It’s because of the way it is taught. There’s lots of interaction and you have to participate. He gets you speaking. At first you might not feel comfortable with it but the whole group is the same. And you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I didn’t want to miss a class.

I use it at work a bit with customers and staff. You’ve got to use the reo every day.

I think it is being used more all the time. This town is definitely becoming bi-lingual – slowly.”

Craig Little, Mayor of Wairoa – and farmer
“It was definitely the best course I have ever been to in terms of your ability to learn. The tutor was magnificent. If you got it wrong it was no big deal. Maatua Rangi was quite unbelievable. He had the knack of keeping everyone engaged. You didn’t have to get all the pronunciation right. He just got a lot of people speaking. It was absolute fun. My wife and I just loved going to it.

And you have to praise the organisers to high heaven as well. It takes them a huge amount of time. Hine came to every session, took photos… she is pretty active on Facebook. She led by example. It was the best social event of the week.”