Youth partnership explores creative potential
1 August 2018
A partnership between students from a Catholic boys’ secondary school and youth prisoners was recognised in Parliament when Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and St John’s College received the Arts Access Corrections Whai Tikanga Award 2018.
This was one of eight awards presented at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2018, held on 1 August. Of the project, the judging panel said: “We loved this partnership project where two groups from diverse backgrounds—high school students and young prisoners—collaborated on a Young Enterprise Scheme project within a tikanga framework. Exploring the young prisoners’ creative potential, they developed a successful business model and showed what’s possible.”
It all started when students from the Hastings school, participating in the Young Enterprise Scheme programme, developed a concept for a project to be undertaken in collaboration with underprivileged youth.
The CEO of the student company suggested working with the Youth Unit at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and the teaching team from St John’s College contacted the prison to pitch the proposal to its management team.
St John’s College is a Decile 4 school with students from a range of backgrounds.
Its principal, Paul Melloy, says that when the student team first approached him, his initial reaction was to say “no” because of concerns about the risk, and health and safety issues.
“It was a huge learning curve for me,” Paul says. “All these things were going through my head but then we got assurances from Corrections about safety. I think my first reaction was wrong and it has taught me to take some risks. Health and safety are important but we can’t let it stop the work we do in our community.”
Forming a partnership
After agreeing to the idea, a partnership was formed between the teaching team and students from St John’s College, and the education team and selected youth prisoners from the prison.
This evolved into a unique relationship between the youth prisoners and the students, who had never visited a prison. Nor had their family members.
In contrast, most of the young men in the prison’s Youth Unit have a history with the Child, Youth and Family Services; most have served sentences at youth justice facilities; and most have a combination of issues involving drugs, alcohol, violence, gangs and mental health issues.
"Genuine enjoyment when they met each other"
“The students were definitely apprehensive and nervous on their first visit,” Paul says. “Walking past the high wire fences and the gates can be intimidating. But by the end, they were greeting and talking to each other like any bunch of teenagers. It was genuine enjoyment when they met each other: it wasn’t stifled or strained.”
“Bruthas” was chosen as the name of the company, which then developed the concept of making rimu platter or bread boards. Initially, the plan was to have the “Just Boards” product shaped as a whare based on Te Whare Tapa Wha model.
However, this idea morphed into a waka, with the four interlocking platters forming a waka. The concept was based on the individual journeys of the rangatahi: the trials and tribulations in their lives, and their work towards their future goals and aspirations.
These platters were made by rangatahi in the Youth Unit, along with some of the rangatahi who had transitioned from the Youth Unit to Te Whare Tirohanga Māori (Māori Focus Unit) but returned as tuakana (mentors).
The Youth Unit also provided a ten-week tikanga programme, facilitated by an external provider, for the Youth Unit.
Paul is proud of his students and says what they achieved was an “outstanding success”.
“We preach values to our students and ask them to live out these values,” he says. They realised that by acting out their values, they could make a difference.”
Profits donated to local trust
Profits from the sale of the platter boards ($1755) were donated to a local charity for disadvantaged youth, Leg-Up Trust.
For our rangatahi (youth), it was an opportunity to think big, and go after their aspirations and dreams, says Lawrence Ereatara, the prison’s Acting Residential Manager, Special Focus Units.
“Some of our rangatahi have continued to develop their business skills with further courses such as our barista training programme in the prison,” he says. “It’s important we create opportunities for them to pursue positive pathways regardless of their background and current circumstances, and not limit their capabilities.
“We weave our kaupapa Māori values of Wairua, Whanau, Manaaki, Kaitiaki and Rangatira into our pathways and develop a cultural sense of identity with our rangatahi.
“The fact that these rangatahi from such diverse backgrounds, living both inside and outside the wire, could collaborate and develop a successful business model demonstrates that anything is possible.”