Four participants from Mitiaro and three from Mauke joined a group of young people on Atiu, where they lived in a hall for a week and a half alongside five police officers from Rarotonga—Teaukura Hosking, Pare Rongokea, Epii Poila, Taneao Ngamata, and Aporo Kirikava—and Tehuki McDonald of the New Zealand Navy. The officers did not use rank for the duration of the programme.
The programme featured a range of topics and activities, designed to instill in young people life and interpersonal skills. Participants wore fatigues and learnt to march, tie knots, and conduct search and rescue operations. They were slotted into leadership roles, responsible for looking after small teams, and encouraged to speak publicly, in front of the group—an exercise Kirikava said yielded some surprisingly vulnerable and honest sharing. They did physical training and community service. They also marched in an Anzac Day parade held last Thursday before dawn.
“In these leadership courses we try to give them the skill set to function and to excel in the work environment by building on their confidence, their discipline,” said Kirikava, who led the group of officers.
Participants also attended educational sessions about cyberbullying, suicide, teenage pregnancy, and a range of other relevant issues affecting youth. The discussion about suicide was topical, given Atiu’s relatively high rate of suicide among young males; last year, there were two suicides and two attempts.
Parents were asked not to visit the hall for the duration of the programme and participants were held to strict standards.
“It’s very challenging,” said Rangi Kimiora, a participant from Mitiaro. “The first day they confiscated our phones… for me that’s very tough. I’m a person that always relies on my phone.”
The leadership course has been through several iterations, first occurring on Rarotonga in 2014. Two more were offered for Aitutaki youth in 2016. This was the first offered in Nga-pu-toru.
Previous courses have accepted youth between the ages of 13 and 18, but this time the age range was flexible. More females enrolled in this course than any other.
“I thought joining this camp could help me discipline myself to be a better person and be a better mum to my son,” said Tekea Akava, 25, who is a single mum to a three-year-old. “It’s taught me more respect and discipline. I’m here because I want to learn to be a good role model.”
The Atiu community was noticeably grateful for the support and welcomed the visitors with characteristic hospitality. Church and community groups took turns providing meals. The sense of aro’a moved McDonald to palpable emotion during a speech he delivered at the Anzac Day ceremony.
The next leadership and youth development course is planned for November.
- Rachel Reeves