From a kid who used to lock himself in his room and shut up shop, to dreams of opening his own dance studio, Leti’s come a real long way in just a few years. Huia O’Sullivan, and the rest of his Ngā Rangatahi Toa wrap-around whānau support crew have been with him all the while.
Article by Huia O’Sullivan.
“Youse came when my boy and our family needed you” shares Noala, “We love you fullas.”
Noala and her son, Feleti, more lovingly known as Leti, have been with us for over three years now. Leti first came to know Ngā Rangatahi Toa (NRT) through his alternative education provider – Target.
Los, his tutor, and Masi, the powerhouse behind the scenes, identified early that he may find some benefit in our creative arts programme – it might help him find his passion doing “something” in the arts.
That something was a love for dancing; a vehicle, which alongside other tools has supported not only his personal growth but also his private journey in coping with the recent loss of his father.
“He sees a brighter and bigger world for himself now” replies Noala, as we chat from their home in Māngere. As I sit here, I always feel an easiness and childhood comfort like being at your nans place. The airiness and framed pictures of loved ones both past and present keep a watchful eye, as kai is lovingly prepared for yet another whānau meal of togetherness.
Noala has invited us into her home and her whānau. We are all in this together, sharing their journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a journey we hold delicately, and acknowledge the privilege to be in this with them, beside them and for them.
Leti spends his Thursdays with NRT in what is commonly known amongst the rangatahi as Triple Threat Thursdays. These days are dedicated to the one consistent touchstone throughout the whole year where our Youth Development team primarily focus on a curriculum that is steeped in developing the tools and coping strategies that support resilience.
“Yeah, it’s mean aye, we learn things like body language, so we can read situations and tell when our friends might be in trouble, like if we’re at parties and stuff. We learn how to resolve conflict – that’s pretty uncomfortable, but coz our squad is so tight we can just be straight up and open with each other. If we get stuck, triple threat is there to help us out if we need it.”
At Ngā Rangatahi Toa, wrap-around support occurs in relationship and partnership with the rangatahi and their whānau. The Youth Development team comprise of a social worker, a therapeutic counsellor and youth mentor. This team support, advocate and assist whānau to navigate through the trials and tribulations of circumstance in South Auckland.
“I’ve also learnt how to be a leader, not just any leader but a proper leader and always get pushed to do it more, which is all goods. Like at our last whānau day during Takatū, I thought I was just timekeeper to make sure everything stayed on track, but then Huia was like, “Leti, you may as well just look at the programme and tell everyone what’s next.” So I did and then before I knew it, it was the end of the day and I had facilitated the whole thing!”
Leti is self-reflective and out of the group is the one that picks up on the connection… or disconnection. He will marinate and then speak up on how as a collective we can put it right. He is the Tuakana and anchor for our squad and holds this space with little reminders from adults.
Sitting outside of mainstream schooling, Leti has made some significant reflections on the importance of being educated and how his Tongan and Māori whakapapa are vital to how he moves in the world.
Leti’s aspirations and next steps in life were best captured through his last Manawa Ora stage performance. Audience members were curious on what his plans were after here. He shared his dream with a 200 strong audience every night for four nights.
“I wanna move to Brisbane, coz the money is better there and then I can save up, so I can eventually open my own dance studio.”
Through the generous offer from one of our community partners – Sisters United, they were able to connect Leti up with dance lessons at The Royal Palace, where he attends and loves his Wednesday night classes.
“It’s not so dark for Leti now, he’s quite out there! For a kid that used to lock himself in his room, he gets out of his hood and he’ll get on the train from Māngere to Papakura - no sweat!” reflects Noala.
With Leti’s increasing confidence in himself, his interpersonal relationships and his abilities, he has applied himself to his studies at Target Education, and to his credit has attained the massive achievement of getting his NCEA level 2, which gives him great pride as it is really important to him to make his father proud.
As the relationship grows between Leti’s whānau and NRT, we are able to go deep and explore what it is that has made the difference in Leti’s life. For all our rangatahi NRT is that whānau outside of their blood whānau. The place they come where it is free from judgement, wrapped in love, kindness and compassion.
For Leti the answer is simple. “Youse are my family, I can just be me”.
Yes you can my bro, yes you can.
Words by Huia O'Sullivan
Photography by Emily Raftery
Ngā Rangatahi Toa inspires kids excluded from mainstream education to confidently build a brighter future through intensive arts mentoring, mindfulness & yoga, and wrap-around whānau support. If you're keen to lend them a helping hand to support kids like Leti, show them some love with 1% of your income!