Kaiwhakamana at VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai
You studied a Bachelor of Social Work at UC – what led you to choose that path?
Prior to studying at UC, I was starting to get heavily involved in my community in Kaiapoi. I joined our local youth council, got into volunteering, and helped organise events for local youth. When it became time to start deciding what I wanted to do after high school, I knew I wanted to do something that was community orientated.
What drew me to Social Work, in particular, was the various pathways it could take you down. With a BSW I could work in hospitals, prisons, schools, government, non-profit organisations, etc. as well as different demographics such as young people, children, families, elderly, disabilities, care-experienced folk, and more.
You have added many strings to your bow since graduating! Can you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since finishing your degree?
My social work studies at UC along with the volunteering I was doing at the same time led me towards developing my vocation as a youth worker. I am really passionate about youth development and empowering rangatahi to build upon their strengths. I spent time working for Rerenga Awa, the local youth worker’s collective, and have worked on specialising in youth engagement, rights, and participation. My primary role now is as a Kaiwhakamana at VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, the independent advocacy organisation working to advocate for tamariki and rangatahi in care and support them to have a say in decisions that affect them.
In addition to this, I work for Leadership Lab, a network of community leaders fostering collective responses to complex issues. In this space I’ve been able to take up the role of Project Lead for the Puāwai Programme, a youth development programme centred on growing young leaders through understanding identity and intersectionality.
I’ve enjoyed picking extra pieces of work over the years, but something I’ve worked on growing over the past two years is my own small business to give me an outlet to have some fun and be creative! So in my spare time, I run The Curve Collective, an online thrift shop focussed on selling clothes and running events for plus size folk.
For 10 years you have been involved in volunteering and community work – How did you start that journey? What are some of your highlights or biggest wins in that space?
As I mentioned earlier, I really started the journey in 2011 when I started getting involved in my local community and decided I wanted to study in an area that would help me develop the skills and knowledge needed to continue contributing to community, wherever and whoever that may be. I was really lucky to have some phenomenal mentors along the way who developed me as a young leader and supported me into my professional career.
I’ve had some huge wins and highlights over the years since my time at UC which have helped propel me further into my areas of interest. One of the earliest highlights I can think of was organising the inaugural Canterbury Youth Awards held in June 2016. The dream was an event that celebrated the amazing work and contributions young people were making around Canterbury. This was once of the first big events I’d ever run and got me hooked on event management and taught me loads of lessons that I’ve bought into my event work today!
Another huge highlight has been working on and leading the Puāwai Programme. Puāwai brings together 40+ rangatahi from a diverse range of backgrounds – Māori, Pasifika, Disability, Rainbow, Care-Experienced and Muslim. Every month these groups meet and share insights into their world, and what it’s like to be them. We also work with them to develop their strengths and participate in a community project. This has been a massive highlight for me with the opportunity to lead a project of this scale, but also the huge impact this programme has had on me. The ability to learn from these diverse rangatahi and witness the growth and change in the young people we work with has made this one of the most worthwhile roles of my short career so far.
The final major highlight was running my first ever Curve Collective event, The Plus Size Market. This was a market focussed on celebrating all things plus size, aiming to make second hand plus size fashion accessible and create a space where all people feel beautiful, celebrated, and catered for; no matter their shape or size. It was a real feel-good event that lit a fire inside to keep going with The Curve Collective and creating more spaces like this.
What do you think the skills and experiences that you gained or had at UC have had the most impact on your career so far?
A lot of the skills and experiences you gain through the BSW at UC are applicable to many areas of life, and certainly had a positive impact on my career so far.
The ability to think critically about complex issues without prejudice, working on my cultural competency to be respectful and responsive to people from diverse backgrounds and identities, and developing a commitment to lifelong learning, are just a few that come to mind. Working with people, things change all the time, and new information and models come to light. Studying at UC gave me the skills and understanding to make a commitment to lifelong learning. So much so, I’ve been considering heading back to do a Master’s Degree in one of my interest areas.
Another impact from my time at UC and something I bring into my work now is developing a passion for social justice and empowering people and communities through advocacy. I love my Mahi working with care-experienced and rainbow tamariki and rangatahi and the passion for advocacy is one of the things that’s stuck with me.
Is there any advice you would give to those freshly graduated in your field?
Congrats! You survived the fieldwork – which is hard work! The best advice I could give is to slow down and take a break if you need it. During the final year or two of my degree, I had a lot going on and decided to take some time off and extend my degree a little which was one of the best things I did. I didn’t rush into any full-time work and actually just spent some time celebrating having completed the actual study! I’m glad I did and I don’t think enough people make the most of the time between ending study and starting work to take a breath. When I was ready and felt refreshed I took on more work and projects and it’s been all go ever since. You can never underestimate self-care!