Hikoi opens young eyes

Troubled youth - including the children of rival North Island gangs - were inspired by a visit to Dunedin.

Dozens of young people have taken part in the three-year programme Hikoi of Leadership, run by the Flaxmere-based Te Taitimu Trust, that includes Black Power and Mongrel Mob members who supported their children going on the annual trip to Dunedin, and the University of Otago.

''They want better for their children . . . they just don't know how to get there,'' trust chief executive Zack Makoare told the Otago Daily Times this week.

Several years ago, the trust brought gang leaders together to discuss the future of their young people, and ways to keep children in education longer, and break the cycle of gang life.

That resulted in the forging of a relationship with contacts at the University of Otago, and had expanded to include the respective iwi of Ngati Kahungungu and Ngai Tahu.

Mr Makoare said it was only a matter of time before some of the participants went on to study and graduate from a tertiary institution, and this would be an enormous success for the project.

''It is just so inspiring.''

When in Dunedin, he held preliminary talks with some local gang members about ''how we can do things together in the future''.

Money for the trip was raised through cutting firewood which ''helped to bring our community together''.

This year's trip included 15 young people - aged between 6 and 20 - and five guardians who travelled to Wellington before flying to Dunedin on July 14.

The trip included staying at Puketeraki marae in Karitane, where the youngsters took part in a school holiday programme and visited University of Otago departments and Arana College.

''It was inspiring . . . and you see them think `we can do this' . . . it helps broaden their horizons.''

The trip was interspersed with activities such as visits to Baldwin St, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Cadbury World, and a trip to Naseby where the children took part in curling, skating and the luge.

Anne-Marie Jackson, of the University of Otago, said ''they could see how university is a natural progression for any of the kids''.

''It is not about pitching Otago, but it is putting the option there that university is a natural pathway for them.''

The programme was also helped through many of the children being familiar with their southern counterparts, thanks to an annual exchange to Hawkes Bay in January.

Jasmyn Keefe-Hilton (20) told Hawke's Bay Today the trip was an eye opener.

She wanted to become a sports psychologist, and ''I found a direction of where I want to go''.

Mariah Richard (16) said the trip had encouraged her to enrol in law school at Victoria University.

''It will be quite a challenge. Matua [Mr Makoare] always tells us we always have to start from the back to get to the front.''

Hastings Mongrel Mob president Rex Timu said even though his gang and Black Power were opposed, they had a ''good understanding'' through the trust.

''What brings us together is whanau,'' he said.

Hastings youth aid officer Senior Constable Raj Cotter, who was also on the trip, told the Otago Daily Times ''this trust works because it is about the kids''.

The project was making a difference to the children and their whanau and both communities in Hawkes Bay and Otago were benefiting from the exchange, he said.

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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