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After the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic led to unemployment, Kaeiuea Bakeua saw a poster for an army training course.
She thought she would apply, almost "as a joke", but the course ended up changing her both physically and mentally, Miss Bakeua said.
The limited service volunteer course is a free six-week training exercise offered by the Ministry of Social Development for people aged 18 to 24 who are neither working nor enrolled in studies.
Run by the New Zealand Defence Force, courses take place on army bases in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Miss Bakeua said she felt a little scared when she arrived at Christchurch Burnham Military Camp wearing a formal outfit and high heels, especially when she and the other trainees were ordered to run around the camp.
"I had to run and my feet were really sore."
Nonetheless, she began to adapt and soon her non-essential belongings were packed away for the duration of the course.
The army way of life included daily exercise, cleaning chores and working to a routine.
The trainees learned firefighting techniques, carrying firehoses and buckets, and went hiking while carrying heavy bags.
The course also taught employment skills, including meeting prospective employers and gaining new abilities.
Although it was out of her comfort zone, the experience gave her more confidence and she had made several friends there, Miss Bakeua said.
She lost about 18kg during the six weeks, and since finishing the course had kept up her exercise, joining a gym and taking part in high-intensity training.
Miss Bakeua is now employed as a cook at Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital and is applying to join the New Zealand Defence Force.
She encouraged others who were looking for a change in life to consider the course.
"It was strict and stuff, because obviously it is the army, but that is how it is supposed to be, and I really enjoyed it."
Ministry of Social Development group general manager, client experience and design Karen Bishop said the limited service volunteer course supported young people to gain life skills with a strong focus on preparing and supporting trainees into employment.
All applicants were required to have a medical certificate completed by their GP to confirm they were able to complete the physical elements of the programme.
Young people with drug and alcohol issues could be referred to the course.
"However, as these substances are not permitted on the course, it’s important that they prepare to be fully participating on the programme from the very first day."
Between July 1, 2020, and May 30, 2021, about 500 trainees had completed the course and about 370 of them were no longer getting a benefit. About 107 trainees were on the course at the moment, and were being supported to move into full-time employment or further study, Ms Bishop said.
Ministry of Social Development community liaison adviser Christina McBratney said the next two intakes for the South Island were from August 2 to September 11 and October 11 to November 20.
Participants retained their unemployment benefit during the course and people who were interested could get in touch via the local Work and Income office, she said.