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Source: Eastern Institute of Technology – Tairāwhiti

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For twenty years her troubled childhood cast a shadow over Reeana Collier’s life. But the EIT graduate was able to put her difficult past behind her and start a new and successful life.

Reeana Collier has overcome her difficult past and found her passion through studies at EIT.

Of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, Reeana grew up as one of seven children. Alcohol and drug addiction were the backdrop of her deprived and rough upbringing. She started to take drugs herself when she was 16 years old. “I was an addict for twenty years, and the last ten years were the hardest,” she says looking back.

She had three children with her first partner, today 19, 18 and 17 years old. Three more followed, today 16, 7 and 5. After Reeana separated from her first partner she moved to Hamilton and lived what she calls “a gang and drug life”.

The pivotal moment came when she learned that her children had been placed with foster families. She desperately wanted to get them back so she returned to Hawke’s Bay, re-evaluated her life and steered it into a completely new direction. She left the gang and her unhealthy circle of friends, attended a parenting course, regular drug testing, rehab and counselling. However, it took one and a half years to be finally reunited with her children.

In 2018, her counsellor signed her up for the NZ Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Mental Health & Addiction Strand) at EIT. “I wasn’t too keen at the beginning but she believed in me. Now I can say that studying unlocked the door to all my potential.”

Reeana has just completed the level 6 NZ Diploma in Addiction Studies (Applied) and secured a placement at Te Poutama Tautoko, which is the Addiction Service within Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga. This could potentially result in a full-time position. Recently she was accepted into Te Taketake Diploma in Applied Addictions Counselling at Otago Polytechnic. And, she is five years clean from drugs.

Reeana says that she brings a deep understanding to her role. “You can’t get that from a text book. I fully see where my clients are at. I know that they initially don’t see a way out, I know how many bridges they burnt and that they lost their families. I probably wouldn’t be this patient and empathetic if I hadn’t experienced all this seesawing myself and eventually found my way out of suffering and struggle.”

Even though Reeana draws a strict line between her role and her private life, she goes above and beyond in her job. “I don’t just sit behind my desk, I go out into the community, take extra time for my clients to develop a strong whānaungatanga.” Her main focus is to open up new pathways and navigate her clients into study.

Reeana still sees a counsellor regularly. “It’s my number one self-care, it keeps me grounded and I can off-load without being judged. Life is a lot easier without drugs and I enjoy the simple things; sleeping, eating, sitting at the table with my children and being a role model for others.”

“My ultimate goal is to open my own rehab centre. I’m not embarrassed of my past. I learned to embrace it, turn it around and use it for the best.”