A new art exhibition to showcase turnaround of some Rotorua taiohi

By Mānia Clarke

A Rotorua based Iwi-run alternative education whānau is changing the way some of the city's troubled mainstream rangatahi view schooling. Kōkiri will display 20 paintings by some of its youth in an exhibition called Tenei Au, as a showcase of the positive turn around.

15-year-old Levi knew little about his whakapapa. Since coming to Kōkiri that changed. 

Levi's mum Eleanor says she's seen a big change in him,

"Been a whole turnaround as well as in the home. And learning about where he's from and where he comes from because he hasn't had that father role model in his life."

Kōkiri work with referred rangatahi years 9 and 10 from four mainstream schools in the area who are on the verge of leaving.  In Rotorua, 400 young people aged 9-15 years aren't enrolled in school.

"For my attendance and drugs and yeah that's about it. I just use to go to school and use to ditch a lot," said 15-year-old student Isaia.

Although Kōkiri has only been operating for six months there's been a big shift in attitude by the students. This will be showcased in the exhibition.

"I've found it really good like I've opened up a lot from since I was being at Girls High, I was just all like closed in, but now I've just opened up towards people," said 14-year-old student Caitlin.

"Their pieces are emotions of their's that they sometimes can't release in kōrero. So, giving them release that theraputic mahi toi gave them that opportunity to express themselves that way," said art tutor Kellaz McManus.

Kōkiri was established by Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust to help address the high number of Māori youth leaving school without any qualification. The aim is to transition them back to school or further education pathways.

Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue projects co-ordinator, George Haimona said, "Some mistakenly think these youth are useless maybe, a naughty child, but for us, mainstream schools perhaps still don't really understand them, and how to engage with them and how to help our youth, that's why they become insubordinate and troublesome."

"It's helping me get through my education and all that, but my goal is to go back to school," said Isaia.

The exhibition opens on Thursday afternoon at Rotorua Lakes Council Galleria.