Elderly couple's commitment to teaching Māori

By Tema Hemi

An elderly Māori couple are doing their bit to help nuture te reo Māori me ōna tikanga for children at the BestStart child education centre in the Wellington suburb of Waiwhetu.  Hepetema and Mate Taitua - better known as Papa Sep and Whaea Mate - have been an inspiration to both staff and children since they started at the centre three years ago.  

Seeing the appreciation others have for Māori language and culture is what inspires this couple to teach.  

Hepetema says, "There are only a few Māori within the BestStart education system. We came out of kōhanga reo to do this work. We are also involved with many community initiatives. We are currently working with students at secondary school level, also with staff at the Lower Hutt DHB and we make time to visit the sickly in the local hospitals."

It was the centre's eager attitude and willingness to learn Māori culture that compelled the couple to stay.

Mate says, "I enjoy teaching these kids because they are really eager to learn and the staff are too. And they genuinely have a passion for the language and that's what they want despite not being a kōhanga reo."

BestStart started in 1996. Their first centre in Tauranga employed five staff and today BestStart is the largest provider of early childhood education and care, with over 270 centres and approximately 4,500 permanent staff throughout New Zealand. 

Hepetema says, "It is much easier to teach these kids because they want to learn and they are quick to pick up the language. Some adults, on the other hand, they always ask too many questions."

"There are Chinese, English and some are Indian also. I always only converse in the Māori language with them and they are slowly getting it," Mate says.

There are 19,000 families using BestStart services for over 23,000 children each year. 29.8% of all enrolments in BestStart centres are Māori or Pasifika children.

"That is our mission is to ensure that our language is taught among all peoples of this country," says Hepetema. 

In addition to its language and cultural initiatives, BestStart provides a wellbeing initiative named 'Hauora' at their various centres.