At the end of 2020, Matalena Fale graduated from high school after a year of confinement and a world changed by Covid.
She was immediately thrown into the pandemic response, joining a call center to direct those who needed help to find the medical professionals they needed.
Fale, from Manurewa and Laulii in Samoa, loves working with people and was happy to help.
But in 2021, a career counselor from Manurewa High School rang the bell, with an exciting opportunity.
* The Awataha Project: How Digging a Stream Brings a Community to Life
* The Case for Uncovering Auckland’s Waterways in Response to Climate Change
* All together: how we are preserving Puhinui Stream for the future
Would she like to work on the Auckland Council helping the council, business and government support and understand rangatahi? Of course, she said.
For the next 12 weeks, Fale participated in a program called Youth Lab, a collaboration between Manurewa High School and The Southern Initiative, a branch of Auckland Council focused on South Auckland.
This was a crash course in communication, collaboration and problem solving, bringing a rangatahi view to Auckland’s challenges.
One was what to do about Puhinui Creek, a long polluted but once prosperous part of the city.
Fale and others interviewed their own peers and contributed their expertise to a citywide project to co-design an intergenerational strategy to regenerate the creek, which was officially approved earlier this year.
Learning to co-design was a surprisingly wonderful part of the program, Fale said. Not everyone in her life understands her, some even ask her if she is building houses now.
“Co-design is participatory design,” she explained. “It involves our community, our rangatahi, focusing on a particular issue that we face.
“What amazes me in co-design is that we approach [the issue] with the voices of our community at the center of it all.
Their efforts were so successful that Fale and three other Manurewa High School graduates were hired as full-time co-designers at TSI.
Since November 2021, their unit – Te Taiwhanga Rangatahi – has been working on a key issue: how to ensure that Rangatahi Māori and Pasifika access well-paying jobs in the environmental sector.
It’s a question consultants from outside South Auckland could have easily answered, said Southern Initiative team member and mentor Anne-Marie Mujica. But why not give it to those who know rangatahi best?
Fale’s tuakana (mentor) at work is Rereahu Collier (Ngāti Porou), who specializes in Māori mātauranga.
He said understanding the mindset of young Maori or Pasifika people goes a long way in helping them open up to development or change in South Auckland.
Unless another youth is present at the consultation to ask pātai (questions), the rangatahi are unlikely to speak out of respect for the elders.
“For a lot of rangatahi growing up in this space, silence is a form of respect,” Collier said. “There are established practices that guard the mana of the rangatahi and through this it is difficult to build a relationship with those who are not fully aware of this worldview.”
“Having someone representing who you are on the board and telling you about the different things that are out there is really helpful,” Fale said.
In a report focusing on Tāmāki Makaurau, a study by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) highlights the importance of green jobs – those that benefit the environment – for the city’s future .
“Within 30 years, Tāmaki Makaurau is expected to grow from a city of over 1.6 million to 2.4 million people, requiring 300,000 additional homes and over 250,000 jobs,” MBIE said.
So who will do this work? Fale, Collier and TSI hope this will be today’s rangatahi and are already talking to Year 10 students about careers based in South Auckland and focusing on improving their neighborhood first.
Last week, representatives from the multi-stakeholder Puhinui Regeneration Project, design firm Isthmus, Ōtara-based entrepreneurs The Roots and ecological restoration experts Uru Whakaaro hosted classes of 10th graders from Manurewa High School at the Hayman Park rēpo (wetlands) for a green job fair.
It took months of work for Fale, Collier and their colleagues to answer their key question. And it may have worked. They will organize another exhibition of this type in the future.
Fale said that for some, learning jobs they’ve never heard of before might be enough to spark a new passion.
Climate change and environmental protection are an issue that students care about, Collier said, and they want to know what jobs are available to them in this sector. The exhibition tried to do just that.
“There’s a whakataukī, ‘poipoia te kākano kia putawai’,” Collier said. This translates to “feed the seed, and it will grow”.
“The Hayman Park rēpo was an opportunity to plant that seed, to plant the idea of the changes they can create within their community, in their future.”