Be Real

– As told to Jeremy Hansen by Hemana –

I know what it’s like to be real down, what it’s like to be at the bottom. I was kicked out of two schools; I was a little shit, real loud. I used to jump up and down every day, screaming with my mates.

The first school I was kicked out of was Ngā Tapuwae. I was just being an idiot with my friends – we smoked weed outside of school and went onto the school grounds under the influence. I regret doing that, I loved that school. It changed me in a sad way. I had schoolmates that were actually like family.

After that, I went to James Cook. I hated that school. I got bullied every day and used to hang with the smokers. I was there for, like, two terms. Guy Fawkes came up and I made a bad decision: I went and bought fireworks with my mates in Manurewa, and I set them off at school, chucking them around. I chucked some at this classroom I didn’t like because I hated the teachers there; I felt bullied by them. I don’t really regret doing that.

I got kicked out of James Cook and I didn’t know what to do. The government caught up with me and I had to go to alternative education. When I was there one of my tutors introduced me to Ngā Rangatahi Toa (NRT). I didn’t know much about them – just that they were a creative arts programme. The first day was cool as. Huia picked me and two of my mates up. We went to laser tag and met other kids like us. We ate. I loved the positivity Huia and Jess shared with us. After that I knew I wanted to do something with NRT. NRT felt more like my happy place than the course.

It was just learning the good shit about life, like about conflict resolution. One thing we learnt about was ‘te whare tapa whā’ – the four walls of you, the person. You have tinana – physical health, wairua – spiritual health, hinengaro – mental/emotional health and whānau – family health. I was taught that if you keep them all balanced it makes you more of a balanced person. You have to work to keep your walls up. Like going for a run every day, spending time with your family, or friends you consider family, and doing things that make you happy. Like going to the water, to go look at it, the ocean. That’s my mental thing. My wairua.

Something that I’m still working on is being connected back to my culture. We don’t go to our marae much and I feel the need to be under Dad’s wing to go there. I disconnected from my culture after I got kicked out of Ngā Tapuwae. Now, I’m learning about my iwi history. This year I’m going to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa for performing arts. I’m hoping to learn more about kapa haka. And I have an internship at Allpress on Fridays: I pack coffee up and put it in boxes for it to get shipped away.

Some kids – especially the sensitive kids – just feel lost. They need NRT to help them find a path again. I used to talk down on myself, sometimes I still do. But now I’m happy with what I’ve got. I don’t really see it as support, I see it as a relationship. NRT are loving, kind, good people in general. I think I would still be in that sad headspace without them. I was ruined. They’ve just taught me a lot about life – a lot. It makes you appreciate things in life, and the good things you have going on. I just love these relationships and I cherish them.

Hemana talks about how working with Ngā Rangatahi Toa helped him find a path again. You can support their mahi with your 1% at

As told to Jeremy Hansen by Hemana. Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen

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