Brendon | Nukuhau, Waikato

“So, my wife and I work within the social service sector, and we do a lot of mahi around Tūwharetoa, my wife in particular around Aotearoa. But once in a while, you’ll have whānau that will surprise you in unexpected ways.

So, during Covid, we’d been quite busy, and our lawns and our gardens went to disarray, but when we returned home, we found that they were all tidied, mowed, gardens are cleaned up, but not just that, also planted with fresh vegetables, and it just blew us away, and what had happened was two young men that we’d worked with, or that my wife particularly had worked with, really appreciated her mahi, and her contribution to their whānau. They knew that we were avid gardeners but couldn’t get to our garden, so as a gesture of goodwill and appreciation, they returned it back to us, and it was just wonderful just to come home and see this lawn done, and these gardens weeded and this fresh kai sitting in a lovely manicured garden at home. It just brought a tear to our eyes, to both of us, because it’s just a gesture that you don’t see, especially with a lot of young people. 

It’s a different world out there at the moment, and there seems to be a lot of focus on the self. So, it was really nice to see such young people extend themselves in that way, and do all that work. It must have taken at least half a day to get through it. In the sort of work that we do, you find that there’s a lot of disconnection in different areas, different levels of society. What we learned from that is that those connections are still pretty strong within those different sectors and in youth in particular. I mean, youth have got so many distractions going on in their day to day lives. Technology’s had a huge impact on that. There’re a lot of concerns around our ecology, our environment but it was really encouraging to be able to see young people like these two men actually passing it forward, reflecting back the mahi, the work that we do out in the local community. For me, that was really encouraging to know that the fight’s worth fighting for, that we haven’t lost this battle, that even though today’s world looks a bit different in terms of today’s climate with Covid-19, that there are still champions willing to stand up, still people that have some really strong values and beliefs around social connection, around Whakawhanaungatanga, in particular, for us. 

I was born deaf. Wasn’t really picked up till I was aged five, I believe I had another tube in my ear, and behind it was a tube that was filled with glue. So, glue ear is the terminology I think they use. I went through a special needs school, and I had one-on-one tuition to help me learn how to speak in a manner that people could understand. So my start in life was a visual start. I often refer to my first language as being the language of sight. Even though I’m Māori and it gave me a unique opportunity to see the world from a visual perspective, not just from an audial perspective. That disposition led me into a career pathway as a commercial artist, I did a lot of work with the All Blacks, subcontracting in terms of textile designs. We were responsible for designing some of the new uniforms that came out in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Then I progressed to managing in those particular textile spaces before moving into building computers for a living. That came out of using computers for the job, and back in those days around the ‘90s, we had to learn how to build the computers ourselves. So, it just was an extension of that, learning the software down to teaching and training people how to use the Adobe products during that time. I ended up in the Briscoe’s Group, working for Briscoes and Rebel Sport as one of the managers there and I spent about 11 years in that particular space. That was a pivotal point for myself. I’d just come out of a marriage break-up. So I had full focus in a particular sector that I threw myself into, which was the retail sector, and I left pretty burnt-out. Put my whole heart and soul into it, but found that through that practice I actually had a strong passion for people, working with people, and then I met my lovely wife, Kim and she worked as a social worker, as a counsellor, and a facilitator, and from that relationship I gravitated towards social services myself, and I ended up doing a four-year degree, and ended up in Oranga Tamariki working with our local people. So, I did have a negative disposition towards Oranga Tamariki back in those days. We were running a lot of well-being programs, which was just people through the transformation of all forms of violence, and one of the conversations that came through quite strongly was the systemic abuse for our whānau that were trapped inside those systems or working through those systems. So we thought, maybe there’s an opportunity for us to work with our people inside the statutory space, and so I went away. I did a degree. I was lucky enough to be employed by our local site here. The Taupō site is fantastic. They’re awesome, regardless of what you hear in the community around Oranga Tamariki, the Taupō office is amazing, and I quickly realised that the system doesn’t just abuse whānau, but it can also be abusive to the social workers in those environments. Some of the policies and procedures are quite old. They’re quite out-dated. There are moves to change those, though. That’s the good thing about it, but it’s a slow process. So I was with them for just under three years, and empowered with this new understanding, and this appreciation now for what those particular departments do for our people. I came back out to work in the preventative space, as opposed to an intervention space. I am an advocate for Oranga Tamariki in regards to what they have to go through, and the space they take to really work with whānau, especially as Māori. It’s really about helping our local community gain a deeper understanding about those particular spaces, and how to help them if they’re in those spaces, but not to provide any token gestures, but long-term solutions. It’s the duration. It’s for the lifetime of whānau. So, it’s a passion that Kim and I have not just at a professional level, but at a personal level, that we’re here for our whānau, for the lifetime.”

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