Youth-Led Puāwai Festival: Aorangi's Inspiring Story

August 31, 2023

From L-R: Cezanne, Takai, Aorangi, and Anna at the Puāwai Festival

As a young teen Mum in Whangārei, Aorangi struggled with her mental health and wellbeing. She didn’t always know where to find support. After attending a Regional Youth Hui run by our partner charity, Inspiring Stories, Aorangi was the catalyst for the Puāwai Festival – an event focused on wellbeing for young people.

Inspiring Stories' Regional Youth Huis are free events to help young people connect with a community of like-minded peers and support, give access to inspirational speakers, workshops, and support to develop ideas to make a difference in their local community.

That’s how Aorangi teamed up with local young people, Takai and Cezanne, to develop and pitch their idea to create a free, youth-led, wellbeing festival where young people could find out what health and wellbeing services were available to them in a fun and engaging way. That little idea would go on to become known as the Puāwai Festival. In te reo Māori, Puāwai means to bloom, come to fruition, open out.

Aorangi (Holding mic) and Takai (RHS of photo) at Inspiring Stories' Regional Youth Hui

“When people leave this event we hope they feel empowered. We also hope they gain knowledge on how to access health services if need be, without feeling intimidated” said Aorangi.

As one of the top-voted ideas from the Regional Youth Hui, the team at Inspiring Stories worked hard to provide ongoing mentoring and support for Aorangi and the Puāwai team to help bring their dream to life.

After six months of ongoing mentoring, planning, meeting with local community stakeholders, and having to reschedule the event due to cyclones and severe weather warnings, the Puāwai Festival finally happened. And, it was amazing!

More than 250 young people and their whanau attended the festival. Aorangi and the team did a phenomenal job of bringing a wide range of local community organisations together. Organisations who provided education and information about health services and practices in a fun and engaging way. This included local wellbeing organisations, youth organisations, health services, kai, games, interactive art, sports, and a youth-led marketplace. There was also a lively programme of young entertainers including a school band, kapa haka group, young rapper, dancers and singers.

The lead up was stressful because of  severe weather but the team remained positive, resilient and determined to deliver an enjoyable and valuable event for their community.  They continually problem-solved, pivoted, and delivered an amazing event. Along the way they learnt new skills in organisation, team work, leadership, event planning, fundraising, stewardship, design, marketing and promotion, and made many new connections in the community.

“You all did a PHENOMENAL job,  and deserve to be SO proud of yourselves! Not many adults would have been able to pull that off. You smiled and showed manaakitanga all day, even with the last minute glitches and weather etc. What an incredible day supporting our rangatahi. We had a blast! Thanks for inviting us!”  Rachel – Whangarei Youth Space Clinical Manager‍

Aorangi, Cezanne and Takai went on to be recognised and celebrated for their community leadership as part of the Volunteering Northland Awards. The Whangarei community is richer for the experience, and there are already plans to establish Puāwai as an annual youth-led event.

Aorangai had this to share – “The ongoing and genuine support from Inspiring Stories has not only made my dreams of helping other young people a reality, but also has made a huge impact towards accessibility of health services for young people in Whangarei. I believe that the Puāwai Festival has proven that change for the betterment of society can be achieved at the ground level, and that as young people we have the power to do wonderful things.”

Words by Inspiring Stories. Images by Coastal Creative Content.

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