The 19-year-old said he was referred to the organisation by the Rotorua Youth Centre but had already intended to sign up to get help with his restricted driver licence. After achieving that goal however, he’s become increasingly more appreciative of the support he receives from Te Arawa Whānau Ora paeārahi, Terere Aoake.
“Being young, you go through certain things, and it’s good to have a support person behind you from an organisation like this, to encourage you and help you along your way.
“The outcomes and goals I set for myself in my whānau plan have reached a certain length of extremity. I’ve exceeded what I expected to accomplish, so now one of my main goals is to get through the year without anything happening because 2018 was quite the year for me.
“I lost my father in November which was a big strain on my family and hit me real hard emotionally. I was living with my father’s sister and she raised me to be the person I am today. But I was close with my dad, so when he passed it took a big hit on me and my little brother, who I now take care of.
“I had my support person to back onto and discuss things after the fact. I knew I needed help, but I wasn’t ready to reach out until afterwards. And Terere was a big support. We put together another strategy and here I am.”
During his time with Terere, Awatea performed in his first musical, Dream Girls, held at Casablanca Theatre. From there, he was cast as a lead role for the musical, Madagascar Junior, where he caught the eye of talent scouts, Cain and Alex Lodge. He is now set to play the lead role in a professional show, Felix the Fearless Dog, at The Blue Baths.
“Playing the main character of Felix exceeded my goals. I said I wanted to do a professional show, and now I’m acting with professionals as a lead – and getting paid for it. The cast know it’s my first professional show and they’ve been helpful in getting the wackiness out of me because the show’s like a cartoon.”
Awatea says Felix the Fearless Dog teaches children about tolerance, bravery, and believing in yourself. He says the main objective is to make people aware that bullying is one of the most painful things a child goes through during school and is a high risk in New Zealand. It’s also something Awatea has first-hand experience with.
“During my first three years of high school I was bullied. That’s why I resonate so much with my character. I also didn’t grow up with my mother – but it’s not a bad thing because I’ve had positive outcomes.
“When I read the script I was like, ‘yes this is amazing’. It showcased a lot of things people need to know about – bullying, judgements, not taking time to speak one-on-one with other people, and to respect them as such. Felix the Fearless Dog aims to prove that even in a rough spot, you can be friends with the people you’ve bullied.”
Awatea says another positive of working alongside Terere, was she encouraged him to get back into is love of law, which he now studies at the University of Waikato.
“I’m passing so many milestones now – ones that weren’t on my list of goals this year. I wanted a break. I felt I didn’t have the time and had all these constraints with family and such. But Terere told me about this awesome course I can do bit-by-bit, and it was good for my time consumption. It wasn’t in the way of anything I needed to do so that was positive.”
Awatea doesn’t see himself coming off the Te Arawa Whānau Ora programme anytime soon.
“I’ll be on it until I can’t be on it. I’m glad I went through with this process. If I didn’t, I don’t know what would’ve happened. There would’ve been a whole lot of mumble jumble in my head.
“You go to organisations where the people who are meant to be helping you are too standoffish and want to be professional – too professional. But with the likes of Terere, they’re very whānau oriented so they make you feel more relaxed and comfortable. They put you in an environment where you don’t feel pressured to talk about anything or say what you don’t want to say. It’s a process that motivates you to speak up when you’re ready to, rather than spitting it all out at once.
“I think the key thing is getting motivated. Being motivated by that support person – that whānau who isn’t from your home but always there for you when you need their help. The ones who check-up on you when you don’t check in. It’s that aroha, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga.”