Helplink Cook Islands officially started in 2013 when Matapuku returned back to Rarotonga after a four-year stint in Auckland, New Zealand.
“The amount of Cook Islanders living in New Zealand who were struggling due to not completely knowing their entitlements or what assistance was available to them, sparked my interest and prompted me to raise some serious concerns.”
Matapuku says that while she lived in an apartment building in central Auckland, there was never a week that went by where she wasn’t asked to assist with arranging financial assistance through Work and Income or Studylink for a Cook Island family or student.
“It amazed me just how little our people knew about what they could get in terms of government financial assistance, or even worse, knowing what they could get but not knowing what to do to get it.”
Before officially starting the service, Matapuku had a total of eight registered clients and she became a legal Work and Income or Studylink agent for them. Most were family and friends and they were a combination of students, job seekers and health benefit recipients.
Matapuku now has a total client base of 22.
“Due to limited funding, I was unable to provide the service full time. I have not yet advertised my services apart from my Facebook page, but even so, word of mouth has been amazing, and although the numbers have been gradual over the past two years, it is definitely manageable with my other full-time projects.”
Helping those already in the system or trying to get into the system was only half the concern. Another large part of Matapuku’s passion was make those who had lost hope for further education more aware of the possibilities available to them as New Zealand citizens.
In 2013 Matapuku conducted a 200-range market research survey on Rarotonga to find out just what the issues were regarding young Cook Islanders who were not aiming for more in life.
Research showed that a large number of Cook Islanders living on Rarotonga were unaware of what was available to them financially and also revealed that many people did know, but were unsure of how to apply for it.
Another obstacle revealed by the research was that many people had a fear of leaving the island because they had family commitments here or did not have family support in New Zealand to get them started.
Some believed that because they had not gained high grades or had failed to complete secondary school, they would not have what it took to be able to study at a tertiary level.
Matapuku took on board the findings and found a way to eliminate 90 per cent of the problems and offered a buffet of solutions. But spending quality time educating and re-educating Cook Islanders was her number one mission.
“Gone are the days where you had to hold an A or B bursary to get into the best universities around the world. Having great grades in college is always a benefit and will open many doors for you. The need for education at every age and level has proven to be vital to a person’s success and you can get a degree in your chosen field at any time of your life. It’s just some may take longer than others to achieve, but it is absolutely possible,” says Matapuku.
Securing financial assistance, accommodation or applying for registration with education or health providers before the client leaves Rarotonga is the aim of the service.
“We try and make the transition period a lot easier for people. We can do all the applications from Rarotonga before they arrive in New Zealand. That way they avoid the waiting period and don’t have the stress of trying to find somewhere to stay and putting more pressure on themselves and their families for support until things get moving.”
Matapuku admits that it is not all smooth sailing for some students as different circumstances can affect the process, but the service tries to do all, if not most of the hard work for their clients before they reach their destination.
Matapuku continues to encourage students of all ages to pursue their academic dreams, and to not be afraid of failure.
“Some of life’s best lessons are learnt when you fail. However, the more important lesson is in the way you pick yourself up from your failures.
“There is always time to make a difference, so why not start now.” - Release