Manaaki Tāpoi – the programme that changes lives

by Lucy Carver

The Manaaki Tāpoi programme, our Māori tourism course, strengthens participants’ understanding of Māori culture and the interconnectedness of Te Ao Māori. Delivered in partnership with the Top of the South and West Coast Trades Academies, this programme gives students the opportunity to achieve NCEA Level 2 and 3 credits and develop crucial personal and social skills. The immersive and culturally responsive learning environment, delivered in four residential four-day blocks across the school term, empowers rangatahi to build confidence, communication skills and personal responsibility, positively impacting their vocational aspirations.  

In April this year, Manaaki Tāpoi Extension students (who have completed the Level 2 and 3 intake of the programme) had the opportunity of a lifetime, supporting the waka hourua (double-hulled waka) festival at Kaiteretere Beach; Te Hau Kōmaru. During the week-long event, rangatahi were able to support the festival proceedings, welcoming other school groups through mihi whakatau (formal welcome ceremonies), leading groups around the various workshops, and learning from the variety of knowledgeable manuhiri (guests) that had travelled by waka hourua from across Aotearoa to attend.  Whilst on their placement, we visited them to ask them about their experience on the Manaaki Tāpoi programmes and how it had influenced their lives.  

Manaaki Tāpoi students take part in Te Hau Kōmaru, the waka hourua festival that took place in Kaiteretere in April 2024


Returning Manaaki Tāpoi participant Tessa (Level 2, Level 3 Extension) reflects, “My first year in Manaaki Tāpoi was amazing. It really brought me out of my shell – the trust that the instructors had in me to do the right thing made me trust myself more and gave me more confidence.  I’m not second guessing myself so much anymore and everyone noticed it. My teachers said that they could tell that something had clicked, and my mum noticed that I was more confident in myself, [knowing] that my input does matter.” 

Recently, Tessa was brave enough to do a Race Unity speech. “I’ve never ever ever thought I was going to be a public speaker! I did it with my dad and it was about racism. I thought a lot about Manaaki Tāpoi and I spoke about it in my speech and I ended up winning the speech competition! I felt like if I hadn’t participated in Manaaki Tāpoi I wouldn’t have had as much to say.” 

Looking beyond Manaaki Tāpoi, Tessa feels that the programme has influenced her future; “I’ve always been quite set on Health Services, so I would probably focus more on Māori health because now I feel like I have a place there now, more so than before. I feel more confident in myself and in my Maoritanga.” 

Mau rakau practice at Lake Rotoiti


Manaaki Extension student Isaiah (Level 2, 3, 3 Ext) found the Manaaki Tāpoi learning style far more engaging than traditional school learning. “Compared to school, which is really stressful, this is a whole new experience which has changed my life and made me more confident. I’m one of those kids that doesn’t like school and doesn’t like sitting down, writing and typing – I’m more into physical activities. This programme is good because I’m getting credits which I need for school but everything we do has lots of physical activity – like high ropes.” 

Isaiah says it’s been a great opportunity to make new friends from all over the region. “Getting pushed out of my comfort zone and making new friends have been the highlights. I got pretty close with the others in my Level 2 Manaaki Tāpoi group and we still see each other and catch up. I’m a lot more confident with most things now that I’ve been on this programme.” 

Although Isaiah doesn’t know exactly what he’d like to do after school, he says the programme opened his eyes to a lot more job opportunities that embrace Māori culture. “We visited Gordon Toi and Hamuera, who do tāmoko and whakairo, carving, and that opened my eyes to what I could maybe do in the future.” 

For anyone thinking about doing the programme he can’t recommend it enough. “If you don’t like sitting in classrooms then I recommend you do this course. It opens your eyes to a lot of things – you learn heaps and you get to be a part of some really cool stuff, like this waka festival [Te Hau Kōmaru] and I’m being a pretty big part of it. Otherwise I would just be sitting at home.” 

“Also not having your phone is pretty good,” Isaiah says. “Instead of being sucked into your phone you get to make new friends, socialise.” 

Pukana! from Manaaki Tāpoi students at Te Hau Kōmaru


Returning student Cleo (Level 2, 3 Ext) describes the value of being in a space which embraces her culture, “Manaaki Tāpoi is my hā, my time where it’s not so demanding, to be in a space which is predominantly Maori, [where we are] valued and appreciated, I think that’s what makes this place special for me. It’s my time where I get to be with my culture, to be with kids who feel the same as me, who don’t always have the opportunity to go their marae or see their whanau. Growing up in Te Wai Pounamu we don’t have access to a lot of reo and a lot of our culture so Mānaaki Tāpoi really enriches that for us.” 

Cleo says the programme has definitely changed her and that changing has been a positive thing; “it’s helped a lot with my confidence. I was very much a pushover last year; I would let myself be in situations or spaces that weren’t always uplifting. Once I started getting more into the kaupapa I understood that pushing myself is better than staying complacent, because I need to be moving and I need to be changing, or I will always stay the same and always stay unhappy.” Cleo says that there have been moments when she’s been terrified, like when the group did the high ropes challenge at the Whenua Iti base, “but, I did it and I think that experience captures what I’ve learnt: I can be scared but as long as I keep going it will be fine in the end, kei te pai, because I will learn from it.” 

Cleo feels there have been many gifts from her time on the Manaaki Tāpoi programme. “It’s a really cool kaupapa that has molded me. I can trust that I can be afraid, and that I can change and that I can be more courageous, that I don’t have to fit into what anyone else expects of me…..Being Maori is not what people want to see, it’s about us and it’s about that mauri, having that mauri for others.” 

Read more about the Manaaki Tāpoi course outline for Manaaki Tāpoi Level 2, Manaaki Tāpoi Level 3, and Manaaki Tāpoi Extension.

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