Hinga Kaiwai - back behind the wheel after 25-year search for mahi

By Te Ao - Māori News

Twenty-five years ago, Hinga Kaiwai’s life changed forever when the van he was travelling in failed to take a corner and rolled.

A skilled forestry worker, Kaiwai sustained serious injuries which led to his arm being amputated at the shoulder.

His personal and working life would never be the same, and his physical injuries were accompanied by mental scars, too.

Kaiwai says, "for the past 10 years, I've been trying to find a job. It's been hard."

He's completed numerous courses during the past quarter of a century but says he hasn't made much progress.

Kaiwai signed up for a Ministry of Social Development funded Wheels, Tacks and Rollers Heavy Equipment Training Course in Gisborne.

"Straight away it was positive," Kaiwai said.

Hinga Kaiwai has overcome adversity to gain employment operating heavy machinery. Photo/file

Guy Allan. who oversees the programme says, "when we met him, he was extremely nervous, having not worked for so long.

"Every time he went for an interview, he could never get a break due to his injury.  But he took to it in no time with us -he just wanted it more than anyone."

Kaiwai impressed Allan so much that he reached out to local employers looking for workers.

‘His ability to do all tasks with one arm was amazing - driving the heavy machinery just wasn't a problem, he was natural,’ Allan says.

He started the squash season last December with Four Seasons, a local squash packing company in Gisborne, using a pivot steer loader to load trucks. He was offered a fulltime position after the squash season ended.

Allan says, "Hinga has the record, I understand, for the least bin damage and loading times. And, because of his performance, Four Seasons offered him fulltime employment, which was an outstanding result."

David Pardoe who is a training coordinator with Williams and Wilshire Transport, says Kaiwai has become a shining light to a lot of other people who want to get onto the course.

"He just pulled himself up by the bootlaces and he's grabbed this opportunity, and he's made the most of it. 

"We hold Hinga on a high pedestal."

Allan says Kaiwai's attitude has set him apart from the beginning and, once he relaxed and let go of the anxiety, he had suffered. "He was a natural. Just because he's got one arm, it doesn't hold him back. He's a better operator than some people with two arms,"

Operating heavy machinery is providing Kaiwai much enjoyment, He says, "when I'm in the machine, awesome. I love it! It's something I wanted to do for all my life, really."

Kaiwai says his new life-changing experience has had a positive effect on his whānau. "I wanted to do this, and get a job for my kids, for my family and be a positive role model for them. Hopefully they can follow in the positive direction, and find a way into work as well."

Pardoe says Kaiwai is doing just that. Tthe example he has set is now transferred to the rest of his whānau, who are now aspiring to get into some of these employment opportunities and make careers for themselves."

Hinga Kaiwai loading crates into a truck near Gisborne. Photo/file

This brave step, along with the determination to no longer let his disability hold him back, changed not only his life but his younger brother’s, too.

His brother, Vance, had also suffered from depression and a recent brush with the law led to him having an ankle bracelet fitted.

Seeing his brother’s success, Vance applied for a place through MSD to join the heavy equipment training course in the hope of following the positive path of Hinga.

Hinga Kaiwai hasn't ended his search for new opportunities. "My goal was to get a truck licence, and hopefully drive a truck one day. keep going with my licences and keep working up I suppose."

"If I can do it, you can do it," he says.