A few years ago Neville Rakena was struggling at school, now he works as a teacher aide at a local primary school.
Neville was introduced to the Nga Rangatahi Toa organisation after his tutor at Quality Education Services, an alternative education provider, recognised his leadership skills.
Nga Rangatahi Toa works with young people who have been excluded from the traditional education system to help them find purpose and direction through a creative arts programme.
Every year 10 rangatahi are paired up with an actor, musician, writer or artist to create a performance-based work that explores their own life experiences. They then perform the work in front of an audience at Auckland’s Herald Theatre. This year’s season of Manawa Ora sold out.
It was following a Q&A session after last year’s Manawa Ora performance that the opportunity for Neville to be a teacher aide at Stanhope School came up.
“I want to be the teacher that I wanted when I was in school, to give that extra support to a kid. I get to walk away from work knowing that I planted that seed in their head, so they can build from there.”
He now plans to do his full teacher training.
Neville says his experience at Nga Rangatahi Toa helped him to better express himself through art. His own learning process at school was visual and he is now able to use that experience to help the children he teaches to stay in school.
“I’ve learnt that everyone has that creative spark in them, you just need to break those walls and find it.
“Looking at them from the first day I’ve noticed they are all tucked in their shell, but I’ve gotta say, that I was like that two, three years ago, but to see them open in such a short time, it’s incredible.”
Rapper Tony TZ is a youth mentor for Nga Rangatahi Toa. He also had a hard time at school and understands what the rangatahi are going through.
He says it takes a lot of courage for the rangatahi to stand up on stage and share stories of personal hardship through their chosen art form.
“That’s what makes these kids so amazing is that they have this life going on behind all of this and yet they’re still able to turn up day after day and give an honest attempt and still produce something so awesome.”
For Neville, he just wants everyone to know that we are all the same, “mostly”.
“We’re in different suburbs, but we’ve all got two arms, two legs, one nose. I just want to share, and let the people know that we’re not that different.”