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In March of 2022, Te Puni Kokiri supported Te Hiringa Charitable Trust to collaborate with Brain Education and Research Ltd in a unique Youth Leadership & Self Development Programme that infused the two cultural practices of Te Ao Maori and the Ancient Body and Mind techniques (a 10,000-year-old ancient practice) from Korea. This union presented a unique point of difference and helped to support and uplift the wellbeing of rangatahi, essentially achieved by addressing the fundamental pillars of wellbeing: physical, mental, social, and cultural.

There were 10 rangatahi Maori participants who were aged between 15-24 years from Te Tai Tokerau. These 10 rangatahi were accessed via a partnership with Mahuru which is the Youth Services arm of Ngapuhi Iwi Social Services. The 11-day programme was delivered at Earth Village close to the Puketi Forest in Waipapa and was designed to develop the full potential of the human brain. The 385-acre Earth Village Retreat location was chosen as the primary delivery site because the natural surroundings are complimentary and critical to a self-healing journey.

The programme involved participating in a combination of meditation, breath work, harnessing energy, yoga, qigong (a form of martial arts and traditional medicine), and personal development practices infused with new findings from neuroscience and education. These physical, emotional, and cognitive exercises help to improve focus, creativity, memory, confidence, self-esteem, self-regulation, stress management and overall well-being for rangatahi Maori.

Te Ao Maori was woven throughout the delivery of the programme and included being immersed in te taiao and engaged in tikanga Maori practices like whakapapa, kapa haka and attended workshops that focused on He Whakaputanga o Niu Tireni and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Fostering positive cultural pride, cultural identity, and improving connection to place and people were some of the many outcomes that were achieved through the programme.

The Mahuru representative who joined the programme acknowledged the programme for positively transitioning lives. The rangatahi had many amazing experiences including spending some time with Mr Ilchi Lee, kayaking, hot sauna and cold bath experiences. We also enjoyed lots of beautiful kai prepared for us by Katie from the Tee Tree Café and delivered to us by the ever-smiling Akasha and they definitely appreciated the time and relished the learnings from Masters Choi and Brain.

During an interview with a 19-year-old rangatahi participant, she expressed how the programme has improved her overall wellbeing:

“I carried so many things on my shoulders and now I feel so light and that I am not struggling to breath … Its crazy to realise how much my body feels lighter and how much I don’t stress about things that are going on, I’m not worried as much … I’m just relaxed, and my spirit is just full of life”

“I found me, I thought I knew who I was, but I just knew who I was for other people, I didn’t know who I was for myself, but I know what type of person I want to be for myself now, to help myself and heal myself, the tools we learnt here we can help ourselves and we don’t have to rely on other people”

On the final day the participants spoke of their personal journeys, delivered a kapa haka and qigong performance and received Completion Certificates. We were very lucky to have some of our Earth Village Wellness Centre Members attend the ceremony and had FNDC Councillor, Kelly Stratford as our Guest Speaker. The rangatahi are currently undertaking a 10-week mentoring programme with Earth Village and the concept of developing a new programme called the Maori Brain Education Training programme emerged from this pilot. Te Hiringa have had initial conversations with the Ministry of Social Development in Whangarei regarding the potential delivery of future programs for rangatahi in Tai Tokerau.

It is becoming more apparent that our youth are leading complex lives and require self-help tools to unleash potential and drive success with confidence for themselves, their whanau, and wider communities. Succession – investment in rangatahi wellbeing is critical for Maori now and into the future; and Self-determination and self-identity play a critical role in the way we interact, behave, and learn. Clarity is needed around direction, responsibilities, and whakapapa.

The team at Brain Education and Research Ltd would like to say a big thank you to Ngaire, April, Shane, Mel, Vaughan, Chloe, David, Akasha, Katie, Choi, Brain and everyone else for their support and for helping us to deliver a successful pilot programme. Fingers crossed we get the opportunity to deliver more.

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