Aunty to everyone: Pania Te Paiho's tireless work to save rangatahi lives

By Stefan Dimitrof

Pania Te Paiho (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngāi Tai, Tūhoe) is no stranger to Whaakata Māori viewers as the creator and lead of Wāhine Toa but Te Paiho has adopted a new role.

She is already a mother but more recently has become an aunt to the nation of rangatahi facing an uncertain future while wrestling with mental health problems.

Te Paiho has now been recognised for working with rangatahi and has become a Kiwibank Local Hero medallist.

Te Paiho said she had won this award in the past for her work teaching wahine how to hunt and that the award this time had a different connotation attached to the recognition.

“It almost has a bittersweet flavour to it. You don’t want to receive rewards for this because of where it’s coming from.”

Te Paiho said that mental health and suicide have hit her hard with the losses of friends and whānau.

'You can never step back'

“When you see it and you know you can help, you can never step back.”

Te Paiho said that looking at the work of Mike King and feeling the weight of his words after having a revelation on Celebrity Treasure Island identifying his work with youth being more important than being on TV:  “Once you step in that space, and you know you can make a difference, you can’t step out. They need us. It's such a blessing but such a bittersweet one.”

Te Paiho said that every night people reached out to her for guidance, advice or just to be listened to but sometimes the messages were dire showing pictures before an attempt on their lives or self-harm.

Te Paiho said she had stopped drinking for nine months while on a journey to heal her te ao wairua and attends Te Haahi Ratana as she is Morehu. She said she found t hard to step back and take a day for herself.

“Because that day a kid could reach out, by the time you check your messages they are not here anymore, and it is really hard for me to navigate that space.”

Te Paiho's advice for people that are wanting to help is to “be the aunty, the uncle, the koro. Be the person that opens that door for korero but doesn’t judge, don’t use it for rumours and gossip; just use it to allow those kids to talk; talking saves lives”.