26 Jun 2017

Who’s helping the kids in the East?

From Christchurch Dilemmas, 6:00 am on 26 June 2017

Jason has moved home six times since the earthquakes.

“It’s doing my head in,” he says.

Jason lives in Christchurch’s east, where a nationwide mental health study has identified that young people are suffering the most.

He attends an alternative education programme, Te Kupenga O Aranui. 

Zion Tauamiti is a suicide prevention worker, though he prefers the title "life promotion". He's a presence on the streets of Aranui and in the local schools. 

Te Kupenga O Aranui is for those who’ve “fallen off the mainstream waka”, he says.

“I was listening to an interview on RNZ, they were saying if you can resource school teams really well, which is part of what we do, then the rates of depression and suicide drop significantly.” 

Kids gravitate to Tauamiti and he to them. He tells them “they’re beautiful and they’re clever and they’re smart … all the things they might never have heard”.

Tauamiti says children in the east, beset with poverty and earthquake stresses, have experienced an extended period of  "trauma on trauma, some kids have only ever known trauma".

That’s reflected in the latest Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health report which surveyed the mental wellbeing of young people in six areas around New Zealand.

The youth of Christchurch East are suffering the most -  43 percent from low self-esteem, 28 percent have self-harmed, 36 percent suffer from high anxiety or depression, and 36 percent feel no sense of belonging. 

Tauamiti feels “the earthquake was the tip of the iceberg really … I think the problems have been here for a long time”.

So who’s helping our city’s, our country’s, most vulnerable youth?

People like Tauamiti, the staff at Te Kupenga O Aranui, coaches and multi-tasking administrators at the Aranui Eagles rugby league club, and musicians Nikki Montana and Mark Tawha.

“There’s so much talent in Christchurch it’s crazy, there really is, especially in the Eastside,” says Tawha.

There’s a major task ahead to turn the statistics around, and to overcome the stigma that young people in the east say they encounter.

Tauamiti is keeping positive. 

“We wouldn't be working if we didn't think there was hope, look how beautiful they are, the smiles, that's all we have.”