Te Whare Tuhua – a place for youth justice rangatahi to belong

By Bronson Perich

Te Whare Tuhua opened last year, and houses rangatahi in the youth justice system. Tommy Wilson, Te Whare Tuhua chief imagination officer explains how their whare helps taiohi.

“We try and' jumper lead' or reconnect our youth,” Tommy Wilson says.

“We adopt them, we whāngai them, and give them a family environment that they haven’t possibly had until now.”

Chief imagination officer 'the shepherd' Tommy Wilson - Photo / File

Sometimes kids don't want to leave

Photo / File

Connecting youth with themselves, Wilson says is the goal. He says at the end of their stay, some rangatahi want to stay longer, due to the positive experience they have had.

He hopes that Te Whare Tuhua can get these youngsters back to their school, whānau and communities and away from a life of crime.

“If we reconnect them and turn them back away from the gates of incarceration, that’s a huge step,” Tommy Wilson says.

“They all belong somewhere. We all want to belong somewhere, don’t we? We don’t want to fly solo.”

Tikanga, kawa, atahwai and mahi kai

A Whare Tuhua kaimahi prepares a boat to take their charges fishing - Photo / File

Wilson says 95% of the staff are Māori and they do their best to intertwine tikanga and kawa practices into Te Whare Tuhua programmes. He says empathy, kindness and arohā trumps all.

“All they want is someone to tell them something good about themselves,” Wilson says.

“When you start telling them something right, or showing them how to catch a fish, catch a kai, grow a kai, everything can be ‘ka pai’.”

The chief imagination officer, often called ‘the shepherd’ by his team, says that his centre could be a model and example for youth justice.

“We believe it’s the future face,” the shepherd says.

“Up until now, let’s face it, things haven’t worked so well. Our rate of incarceration, our rate of rejection, our rate of lost youth hasn’t been working.

“Keep doing what we’re doing, I believe.”

The elephant in the room

The shepherd says police, Oranga Tamariki, Corrections and MSD are beginning to buy in to the Whare Tuhua way. He says it’s time to stop blaming and start working together.

“It’s just too easy to point the bone of blame eh?” he says.

“Why don’t we convert that energy into tautoko, into ‘awhining up’. We’ve gotta awhi (support) up”