At only 21 years of age, mental health advocate Ezekiel Raui has accomplished some incredible achievements and says he owes his success to his whānau.
This week Raui was the first in his whānau to graduate from university, receiving a Bachelor of Business from Massey University.
“To have my parents there, to have my family there to see this, I think was the most humbling moment in my life because for me what we have here is intergenerational change in action, this whole idea of us as Māori breaking down the stereotype of what it means to be a Māori.”
The Te Rarawa descendant was also chosen as valedictorian and spoke about the importance of helping others.
“It’s all good and great that we get to celebrate our successes but at the same time there are people without, outside of the four walls that we celebrate in, that need our support and that's where we should be focusing our attention.”
Ezekiel receives Queen's Young Leaders Award. Source: Supplied
Earlier this month Raui was named in Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs List.
“I've had some pretty crazy experiences but I think for me the best bit about these experiences and the platform that I've been given is using it to amplify my voice, to tell our tauira that anything is possible as long as they believe.”
Raui says his humble upbringing inspired him to work in mental health.
“I found out later on in life that I grew up homeless for about five or six years. I've lived everywhere, from the side of the street to in our car that mum and dad have.”
One of his “fanciest whare” was a bus that his dad found at a wreck and turned into a house.
“Regardless of lacking anything financially or materialistically, our parents have always been staunch in believing and supporting us. So for me, the idea of moving into mental health was the fact that I grew up from a very strong home environment.”
He says his journey working in mental health started in 2013 when a spate of suicides hit his community in the Far North.
"We lost five young people in the space of a month and to me that sent ripple effects throughout our community," he says.
“We needed to find a way to train each other, to equip each other with the tools to have the initial engagement, to access the situation and pathway them on. That’s where we met Mike King and we started our collaboration and he became a mentor of ours.”
This year his Tū Kotahi pilot programme, which has received backing from the government, will be rolled in schools across the country.
It focuses on hosting education sessions and youth workshops where young people are given peer counseling services.
“We've gathered the best and the brightest from around Tāmaki Makaurau for our pilot this year and what we aim to do is bring together 120 young people at the Vodafone Events Centre on the 1st and 2nd of May and train them with the ability to engage with their peers and support them.
Tū Kotahi mentors led by Ezekiel Raui. Source: Te Ao
As a leader, his team of mentors says he’s doing a pretty good job.
“He’s very good at public speaking but also making sure that everyone’s voices are heard,” says 22-year-old Sammy Butler.
“All the stuff that he's accomplished, like meeting the queen and all the stuff in his field, it's quite cool to see that just with hard work you can reach those goals,” says 18-year-old Joel Dallow.
Raui says one of his biggest aspirations is to become the prime minister of New Zealand.
"And even now have kind of redefined that and aspire to one day be the Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
Where to find help and support:
- Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
- Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
- Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat
- Samaritans - 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
- Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)