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Learn who you are ; a Rangatahi's journey

I am a 20- year old rangatahi, going through all the navigations of life everyone must experience. I’m constantly wondering where I will go and questioning where I am now. In my opinion, the universal feeling of ‘what am I doing with my life’ is ongoing for everyone.

However, that feeling changed when I had the opportunity to go to the Tū Manawa Ora rangatahi camp earlier this year. It was the first time I felt truly encouraged to express all of my uniqueness and the identity I held. I went from feeling like I was the only one who could understand my dreams, to embracing a community where we could all support each other to share and express ideas to help encourage those dreams to fruition. Something I’ve always wanted.

I grew up travelling, often thrown into new environments and circumstances. I learned how to adjust to these climates by connecting to the people. After living in three different countries since I was 6 years old, the most significant impact has always been the people and creating a family everywhere I go.

Born in Whanganui, my family moved to the UAE and Borneo. It was a massive culture shock to go from Aotearoa, which I would consider a very open and accessible country, to living in Muslim countries that were much more restricted. I could enjoy living overseas in a world almost opposite to mine because my family and I could share my culture and traditions with our friends. My sister, mum and I would perform waiata and our friends would do a dance or chant in return. We had so many nights where we would have a language barrier between us, but we also had a massive desire to understand where we came from. This gave me a massive appreciation for identity, culture and belonging.

The friends I made were very important to me because I relied on those connections to create stability in new places. To be honest, I was probably a bit too dependent on them. I was more focused on having connections with people.

I wasn’t valuing the quality of the relationships, getting myself used to hot and cold friendships and lacking in effective communication.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I shifted my behaviour and mindset towards other people, taking on the responsibility of my emotions and being proactive in the environment I wanted for myself. I had a much smaller but much closer friend group. One that supported all of my passions that I had felt too ashamed of to talk about with my old friends.

The pressure of being liked started to fade away, and the value of being happy on the inside was all that mattered. As I got older I was taking little steps to get involved in what I cared about, writing poetry only for me to read, studying politics and learning languages were all things I slowly started doing for myself. But, I still was hesitant to share it with my friends, feeling like it was opening up a part of me that felt too exposed.

Then I went to the Tū Manawa Ora Rangatahi Camp and that supported this shift even further. It was a vital part of my year because it completely shifted the way I saw myself, I could be comfortable with who I was and learn to love the parts about me that I didn’t celebrate enough. And I saw that ripple through every single rangatahi there.

One of the camp facilitators, Kahurangi Simon Jr, said‘ “Learn who you are and where you’re from. It will help you understand who you are as a person and also about the person you want to be.”

The camp focused on empowering who we are. I reflected a lot about my journey and experiences; I had been immersed in so many cultures that I didn’t get a lot of time to connect deeply with my own. The camp changed that relationship and I was able to spend time focusing on my relationship the the whenua I was raised on. It gave me a different sense of pride and brought me back to honouring my own culture when I had so often been celebrating others. Through that learning, I began seeing my community for the first time, and I knew I wanted to be involved.

I managed to get a job at The Learning Environment. I had fallen in love with the people and opportunities there. I also started performing my poetry at Porridge Watson, running some youth events and started getting involved more and more with the community.

From that environment, I’m now surrounded by some incredible people who deeply care not only for one another but also for the community and the environment. I found new role models who support me and can value my opinion as a rangatahi and the way I see the world. I feel value in myself. Even though I can still struggle to be confident, I have learnt to appreciate where I am at in life; being like a sponge, just soaking up as much knowledge and experience as I possibly can.

My community is forever expanding, with each person there is something to learn about them and yourself. I hope that we all can start looking at each other with an open heart and a kinship for connection.

Each of us has the power to make a better community and environment, we just need to be proactive in creating it.

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