These kids, they’ll only start to believe what you say, when they trust you believe – when they see you can put yourself in their shoes. Amelia believes. I’ve been there. I was at the alternative school Amelia established and ran at the Wellington City Mission - it was the first time I had experienced a whānau environment, cause that’s what we were. But it was always aroha and warmth and that came from everyone. Even if we were getting a growling it was like getting a growling from a mother that loved us, a carer. There was a sense of belonging and purpose, and we set goals and achieved them.
Te Kāhu Tiu is going to provide connections and tools. Connection to the earth, connection to their culture, a sense of belonging and knowing who they are. Planting these seeds early will make a great difference in the world. It will provide the inner strength for these kids to get through life.
It’s only when these kids commit crimes that people start kicking up a fuss, otherwise and sometimes even then they slip under the radar. These youth, they need places where the impetus is to listen and understand. Preventative initiatives at the top of the cliff to stop these kids from ‘jumping’
They’re growing up like I did, living without guidance, not knowing who they are, fending for themselves and turning into products of events they can’t control. It’s not who they really are. I’m not what I used to be and I actually never was that person but those were my circumstances and they were all that I knew. It’s only now as an adult that I know who I am, and I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.
I wouldn’t wish the things I’ve done upon anyone – and now I have to deal with the guilt. I’ve been there. I know these kids. This programme is what they need, it’s what they’re missing,
Amelia’s passion and empathy speaks volumes, and it’s all backed up by years and years of study and experience. Importantly she has a real understanding of Māori culture, which I think is going to shine.
This is my story…
As a kid the only thing I had plenty of was violence - and fear. Growing up was rough - very ‘Once Were Warriors’.
I had a step dad who drowned me in ‘tough love’- daily. The fact Mum couldn’t help me hurt a lot. It was like she almost approved. Only as an adult I can now see she was trapped.
At a very young age I was near the point of suicide. Having a broken heart and a broken mind and trying to navigate the world, you tend to put yourself in very dark places, dangerous places.
I pretty much raised myself, and my younger siblings, and it usually meant being on the other side of the law. There was no income or guidance, and it forced me to fend for myself, feed myself by any means necessary. I remember when I was 5, going to my first day of school with no lunch… going to school every day with no lunch.
I would do anything to get fed, feed my siblings, or feed my friends, and being young and desperate I tended to make a lot of mistakes and get caught. There was a high presence of gang members in our neighbourhood, and they would see me almost as a threat or a little shit, so they would deal to me. But I was accustomed to violence, and no one could hurt me as much as my step-dad, so it never brought me down. It only made me stronger.
By the time I was a teen I was a hardened teen. The services that had been pointed my way had always seemed like an interrogation or turned out to be a let-down after setting high hopes or false hopes. None of them had any understanding - they were always saying “you are this, you are that, you’re great” but they never believed it.
When the extensive records of my many aliases started getting pieced together, it led to a Family Group Conference, and my partner’s mother agreed that she would take us in. I was 15 and gained the first real mother figure in my life. She had understanding, didn’t judge, cooked me warm meals, and she gave up her love. She was the first person to ever take me to the doctor – I thought I was in trouble, I thought I’d done something wrong. Turns out, if you’re sick you can just go to the doctor.
She also cared enough to enrol me in the City Mission School where I met Amelia. After about a year at the Mission, my partner got pregnant and I felt I needed to provide - and I only knew one way. At 16, I was getting high, getting drunk, had a gang mentality carrying drugs, large sums of money and guns. I was on track to self destruction and it eventually led me to jail. Jail wasn’t a place of reflection. It only reinforced that I was an outcast, and I needed to get better at not getting caught. I was 19 and with my peers - gang members, street kids, and my ex-partners. I felt comfortable. We were all outcasts and I gained a sense of whānau, belonging, aroha and protection. I made a lot of good friends. It’s where I spent my 21st.
Coming out I was honed, still on the same track, but this time more destructive - and I honestly wouldn’t wish the things I did upon anyone. Eventually I met some mentors who opened me up to some of the realities that most people knew, and they started “Adulting” me. I had a lot to learn- at 22 I’d never had a bank account, and I didn’t even know what an IRD number was. But now I had people in my life who believed in me and supported me - and I started believing and understood I could be something. Reintegrating into society was difficult. The first job I got was washing dishes and the first car I bought was a Nissan Sigma. It was a piece of shit - I was used to driving stolen turbos - but it was mine, I’d paid for it!
I was a gangster. I’ve been there, and done everything and more. The kids that are growing up to be who I was, never need to. They don’t even know that there’s another world, but they need to be shown, and shown how to fit.