I will never be anything… I am never going to go anywhere in life… I’m a failure… I’m ugly… No one likes me… I shouldn’t be here… I should just die.
All of the thoughts I just shared were ones that I felt frequently up until I was selected for Project K.
I’ll tell you why, unfortunately, my story is more common than any of us would feel comfortable admitting to tamariki across Aotearoa.
My childhood included abuse; foster care and seeing my parents battle their addictions with both meth and alcohol. From the age of 2-12, I did not live with my birth parents. 2009 was my first year of high school, a scary enough year to navigate as it was, but I was also navigating a home life that was incredibly toxic and being bullied at school meant that I felt I had no place… anywhere.
I would wag classes and do whatever I could to get attention regardless of whether it was negative or not. In 2010 I had been selected to attend Project K and I remember how adamant I was that “I would NOT be leaving my friends, for almost 3 weeks, to go out in some bush… with a bunch of what I had thought to be at the time, losers. No way! Not happening”, However at the time my Mum had kicked me out, so it was either sleep in a bus shelter or complete the programme.
I was such an unhappy girl with a limited ability to emotionally regulate or show any signs of positivity or joy. I had no idea that by being removed from the city, by having a chance to think and reflect I would begin my journey of change.
I needed new friends. The thing about this programme and the Graeme Dingle Foundation is that all children who enter any programme at any age level get so much out of it.
The week we got back was hard, so hard, I did not like my friends anymore, where would I fit in? Who was I now?
10 weeks of community challenges, including working for homes for hope building community gardens, having a day out at Avalon Special Needs Facility and doing a scavenger hunt throughout various businesses across Tauranga. I just saw my world opening up.
My life goal previously was to get a benefit and breed a bunch and hope I don’t go to jail for all the dodgy things I was doing before Project K. I didn’t think I was ever going to be someone.
My mentor Shona helped me to get my licence, and she helped me to get a job, but in my opinion, the most significant moment of impact for me, was when she invited me into her home to decorate her Christmas tree, to enjoy time with her family, to show me what it’s like to be happy.
Upon graduating I won the National Excellence Award for my progress, and I really can’t stress enough the changes that were already happening for me.
But I was devastated because it was over, the programme had finished, and it had saved me.
The positivity that comes from being involved with an organisation like this is addictive, so I started volunteering to share my journey and then as soon as I was old enough, I trained and became a mentor myself. To a gorgeous young lady who had had similar issues to me and having a consistent adult to lean on as I had with my mentor, made things that much more bearable for this young lady whom I am so proud of and we still keep in touch to this day. Her life has done a 100% turnaround.
Next, I trained and became a Kiwi Can leader and if you don’t know about Kiwi Can I challenge you to go and find out all about it because it’s an incredible programme!
The thing about this organisation is that the values and experiences you gain as well as the networks and connections make you crave staying connected with the organisation, so I am and I think I always will be.
I am now running Hine Ngakau a shelter for Homeless Wahine and I love helping people in my community who weren’t as fortunate as me in getting to do one of the programs this organisation has to offer.
Tamariki in Aotearoa are all our responsibility, they have the fate of the country in their hands and we must all work to show them the right way and give them the right tools to reach their full potential. The statistics behind the incredible progress of both students and communities that engage in any of the Graeme Dingle Foundation programmes they have to offer are truly incredible.
“I’m going to be something; I am going somewhere in life. I’m not a failure, I’m beautiful, people do like me, I should be here, I shouldn’t die.” These are my thoughts now.
I will not be a negative statistic for this country in jail.
I will not be a suicide statistic.
I will be a voice for our youth.
I will be a loving member of my community and I will do whatever I can to make a difference thanks to the Graeme Dingle Foundation.