“We mostly work with rangatahi but they’re part of whānau, so our support extends to the rest of the whānau too”, says Jono Campbell of Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi, a youth development organisation in Christchurch.
Te Ora Hou has being working with vulnerable rangatahi and whānau in Christchurch since the 1980s. It plays a brokering role between schools, the justice system, Oranga Tamariki and rangatahi and whānau.
Te Puni Kōkiri has supported Te Ora Hou to provide tailored support for vulnerable Māori communities during the COVID pandemic so they can move successfully from crisis response to rebuilding and resilience.
Jono says the team of more than 30 youth, hāpori and social workers were concerned about how whānau would cope with being at home together during the lockdown, effectively placing families into a pressure cooker with risk factors like drug and alcohol dependence, domestic violence, overcrowding and job losses.
“Many lack the ability to plan, cook meals or follow routine. They said they couldn’t cope with their kids at home for a month. They had no way to stop them from taking off to steal cars or break into businesses. Parents were worried they’d be arrested. It was a big stress especially for grandparents raising their moko”.
Despite fears for ‘roamers’, ‘runners’ and spikes in risky behaviour, Jono says it never panned out.
“They coped well. They had the skills to be resilient, we just supported them to use them. We’re genuinely proud of them.”
Making sense of COVID-19
Te Ora Hou quickly found ways to keep rangatahi connected and keep “virtual eyes on” them. A weekly Facebook live/Zoom run by senior youth leaders and young people brought everyone together for fun, to hear what taiohi needed and find solutions together.
“Early on rangatahi were overwhelmed with information and it was a foreign language, words and terminology they didn’t understand. They just gave up. That meant they didn’t have a good grasp of what was happening and what it meant for them. Some even got caught up in conspiracy theories”.
Youth workers and rangatahi unpacked the information and took the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills around what quality information is and how to discern it.
Challenges of Level 3
Te Ora Hou runs youth development, alternative education and school attendance programmes. They are now supporting rangatahi to adapt to life at Level 3, particularly online learning. There are delays getting household internet connections, receiving devices from schools and knowing how to use the gear.
“Online learning is really complicated and overwhelming for families who aren’t used to being online. Particularly when you’ve got kids across multiple schools with different expectations, demands and platforms to navigate” says Jono.
The value of togetherness
One of the biggest challenges for rangatahi during the Level 4 and Level 3 restrictions is the absence of whanaungatanga and a sense of belonging.
“Te Ora Hou might be that one positive, warm, healthy, structured place of belonging these kids have. They need to be able to play, get a hug, be praised. A lot of them live in places where they don’t get that”.
Jono admits ongoing pressures around things like heating bills and job losses are increasing in households and kids can be the first in the firing line as things heat up.
“It’ll be good to get to Level 2. But we'll keep doing what we're doing, staying close, checking in, brokering relationships.”
Jono draws strength from how resilient Māori have been in the face of the pandemic.
“Māori were potentially the most at risk but we have done incredibly well. We need to acknowledge and celebrate that. We are at the right end of the health statistics.
“Let’s keep it that way, for the old and the young”.
Photo: Te Ora Hou youth leaders in Christchurch connect online with vulnerable rangatahi to have fun, identify need and find solutions together