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Porirua – Porirua rangatahi are sitting in a class clapping each other’s achievements. One has passed their licence, another’s in final year nursing, a 15-year-old’s returning to college and someone else is off to polytech.

The room cheers when the tutor congratulates a girl for landing a part time KFC job. “No discounts,” she says, and everyone laughs.

These young people who weren’t in jobs or training are finding new opportunities through the Paria te Tai (the changing tide) initiative. It is run by Ngāti Toa for their own young people with a focus on connecting to the local te taiao (environment).

The course is part of Te Puni Kōkiri programme Pae Aronui which is delivered in five urban centres nationally to test innovative approaches that improve education, employment, or training outcomes for Māori 15 to 24 years old that were not employed or studying.

The initiative is run in South Auckland, West Auckland, Hamilton, Hutt Valley and / or Porirua. First year results nationally showed 302 rangatahi were recruited, 235 completed the programme, 141 achieved employment outcomes and 94 achieved education outcomes.

Ngāti Toa general manager education and employment Bianca Elkington says they developed Paria te Tai because the environment was both a growing area their iwi needed support with and an area rangatahi were interested in.

The approach is working, with 15 of the 20 Ngāti Toa rangatahi now in employment including Leland Ruelu who is pursuing his passion for nature through a Department of Conservation job on Mana Island.

Te Puni Kōkiri regional manager in Te Tai Hauāuru, Jess Smith, says Pae Aronui is changing rangatahi lives through innovative and culturally grounded approaches.

Twenty-one year old Riria Solomon is the youngest of 10 kids and says before starting the course she was finding life tough.

“I was babied as the youngest but then I had my first baby when I was 14 and I struggled – so my Mum stepped in. But after that I was getting into trouble, I was in and out of home and living on the streets,” Solomon says.

“The tutors have given me heaps of support, they made me think about my future and helped me find a house. Best is I’ve got my daughter back through the course, my other baby, and I’m just so grateful.”

The Paria te Tai group is learning a Te Ao Māori view of the environment from fishing to harvesting harakeke. Visiting places such as Mana Island and the Kāpiti Island marine reserve which is teaching them about nature, their whakapapa ties to those places, and the role of iwi as kaitiaki (guardians) of the land and waterways.

Photo: Ngāti Toa rangatahi pictured on Mana Island learning about the environment through a programme to give opportunities to youth that aren’t in jobs or training.