MCLaSS (Multi-Cultural Learning and Support Services), Red Cross and Changemakers Refugee Forum are three Wellington refugee and migrant settlement organisations.

Red Cross Wellington is the largest settlement region for quota refugees, Changemakers Refugee Forum focus is working with former refugees to help them participate fully in New Zealand life, and MClaSS provides adult ESOL education and employment support.

All have some similar objectives including their learners or clients having an understanding of the history, bicultural character, and qualities of Aotearoa New Zealand. These objectives have been included in the three organisation’s strategic plans for some time, but up until last year no specific steps had been taken.

Debbie Player, the project manager associated with MCLaSS, says that some people in the organisation were aware of this short-coming. Many of the teachers have not been schooled in New Zealand and have not received even basic education in tikanga and te reo. They asked for more professional development, including a visit to a marae.

So Debbie got in touch with the other two settlement organisations located close to MCLaSS and found that they were keen to take action too. The three agencies made a joint application to the ACE Aotearoa Professional Development fund. It was successful – and so began a year-long professional development process for their staff, and an education programme for their clients/learners.

Debbie explains the carefully considered process.

Developing a plan and a curriculum

“We were very fortunate that consultation with local iwi through the Tenth’s Trust led us to Ben Ngaia who became our key mentor, guide and provider for our professional development plan. Ben, at the time we first met him, was Pou Arahi or cultural leader and educator, employed by Te Wharewaka o Poneke Enterprises which is sponsored by the Wellington Tenth’s Trust and other iwi organisations.

“With Ben’s support we developed a plan for November 2016 – November 2017. There were three objectives: provide a cultural experience and engagement for staff and clients/learners in the three areas where former refugees are settling (Wellington South, Porirua, Hutt City); provide professional development for staff of all three organisations; and develop an appropriate curriculum for MCLaSS learners.

“We knew there would be a lot of interest in the final outcome so from the very beginning we engaged Mary-Jane Rivers as project evaluator. Mary-Jane has practical experience in undertaking participatory evaluation in local and international community settings and is familiar with carrying out an evaluation process where people have limited communication outside their own culture and language.

“We worked with Ben on developing our curriculum for our tikanga Māori programme. It has specific objectives for each level. For example, by the end of level 2 each learner will have been exposed to: 15 key words in te reo; pronunciation of te reo Māori (vowels and consonants); 4-5 waiata (including the national anthem); a local history and significant geographical sites; relationship with local iwi; and a traditional Māori story (Maui and the Giant Fish). This level of detail is provided for in levels 1a and 1b – and there is a curriculum for workplace learning. An appendix to the curriculum document contains information on the Treaty, local history and Māori songs and stories, as well as a glossary of Māori words.

The programme

“The programme was launched at Takapuwahia marae last December. Ngati Toa kaumatua, Taku Parai, made sure that our very large group of 130 people received a warm welcome, including a big hangi. We had all learned a waiata and during the visit, with the help of many translators, our group learned about the history and rise and fall of tikanga Māori over the last 150 years.

“What was amazing was the extent to which our clients and learners were able to connect with tikanga Māori. Over and over again we heard – ‘This is the same as our culture – we do this too! These are our values!’ They also understood the experience of cololnisation and the damaging effect on culture and land boundaries. So they were heartened by what they saw as a good news story, the way that Māoridom has risen up through the settlement process, with some land given back and some compensation paid.

“There were members of our staff and board too, who found the experience quite new – even many of our New Zealand-born staff and board members. Unless they had a teaching background, many had never been on a marae before.

“The next part of the programme was professional development for 35 staff from our three organisations. We held two workshops. The first day covered: awareness of the Treaty of Waitangi and how our values give expression to the Treaty, pronunciation of te reo, and some tikanga Māori, including learning another waiata. The second day was held on Wellington’s waterfront at various sites, in the Wharewaka Te Raukura and on the top of Mt Victoria. It was history-based and we discovered that Ben was an amazing story teller and historian too. By the end of the workshops all the tutors were familiar with all aspects of the curriculum and with the rest of the programme for the year.

“From February to June we held a mixture of classroom activities and teacher professional development. There were learning milestones for both teachers and learners for each semester. In August we held a second professional development workshop and in November will be running a governance workshop for our boards/ councils. Because we have such a robust evaluation process we were able to capture all the emerging learning needs as we progressed.

“Finally, a key goal is to connect our ESOL learners to local iwi in the area they live. We have a planned visit to Waiwhetu Marae (Hutt City) and Te Wharewaka o Pōneke in Wellington City taking place shortly.”


“One tangible learning outcome achieved immediately after the trip to Takapuwahia was evident in the results from the Tertiary Education Commission’s Starting Points assessment tool. The word list that is used contains a few key Māori words like whare and marae. In the past, students have not known what these words meant. Many of the students who were assessed after the marae visit in December 2016 were far more successful with the Māori words in the assessment. We are building on that progress.

“A survey of participants and a focus group captured the feedback on the two workshops days. It was unanimously positive and strongly enthusiastic.

“One of the most significant gains to date has been the building of connection with local iwi. Our relationship is important and we value it highly. The curriculum will be monitored every year and will be regularly updated with local iwi.

“Red Cross and Changemakers Refugee Forum staff mentioned to me that they see enormous value in the visits to local marae, and the local relationship building that this brings. They think it is helpful for families with refugee backgrounds settling into a new housing and school area to learn about the community social, education, and health programmes, so ably carried out by Māori providers based at marae such as Waiwhetu, rather than solely basing their perceptions of Te Ao Māori on the secondhand views of others.”