“My life’s work is young people,” says Huia O’Sullivan. “They are what blow my hair back.” After two years at our partner charity Ngā Rangatahi Toa, Huia has stepped into the role of Executive Director. We chatted to Huia about her new role, her lifelong commitment to youth development and the importance of having a kick-ass team behind you.
I grew in Ōhope Beach in Whakatāne. My mum worked alongside the recreation officer there and from a very young age, I used to go with her to work during the school holidays. This was my introduction to community development and where I learnt the value of giving without expecting a return. This way of thinking has never left me and as I grew older and moved into the outdoor industry, I was always looking for opportunities to give back through volunteering.
This started to become unbalanced when I found myself doing more work with young people than I was in the outdoors, so I went back to study as a mature student. I’ve been working with young people in youth development for over 22 years now and it is my life’s purpose.
A lot of my responsibility involves being a mirror for our young people and whānau; being the stable, reliable one. It’s my intention to tell them they're doing good and to gently guide them when they could do things differently.
I joined Ngā Rangatahi Toa just over two years ago and haven’t looked back since. My new role consists of creating a platform for young people to have a voice, advocating on behalf of them until they find their own voice and creating a space for them in a system where they are often the minority.
The best way to do this is by forging pathways that create meaningful employment and education opportunities. We use a creative youth development approach and a whole team of kick-ass people that share our values to make it happen. It’s not for me to say I’m making a difference in the lives of our young people. I’m here to plant seeds in their minds, to nurture them and to help them grow.
The one certainty I do know is that our youth suicide stats in New Zealand are way too high. I have a responsibility to change them through the strategic work that Ngā Rangatahi Toa does. The aim of every project we co-create to is to reduce harm and build resilience with, and for, our young people. They don't live in isolation and neither do we, so working alongside them is the key to creating change.
Words by Huia O’Sullivan and Image by Dan Eriksen.
Ngā Rangatahi Toa connect through classroom programs and performance projects based in love, kindness and compassion. If you're keen to lend them a helping hand, show them some love with 1% of your income!