Tama Samuels is taking the opportunity to prove himself and alongside his business partner, Rema Smith, has established Arawai, a Dunedin-based programme that reconnects participants to their whakapapa, their environment and the community.
Tama (Ngāi Tahu, Waitaha, Ngāti Mamoe, Ngāti Hāteatea, Ngāti Haua, Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Raukawa) and Rema (Ngāti Kahungunu), who both have careers in social work, established Te Arawai in 2020, although the initiative has much earlier roots.
“When I knew I was going to be a father and I wanted to establish a base in Ōtepoti, I completed a Diploma in Professional Scuba Instruction, which has helped me to take my place in the community,” says Tama.
“Around the same time, a group of us young tāne, who were trying to deal with a lot of different issues had found common ground in diving and supporting one another. That helped us better ourselves as men. It uplifted us and it showed us that there was a better way to be.
“I was broken back then but I’ve been able to heal, to regain my place in the community and to be a role model as a man. I’m a very different person now and I feel humble and excited about being able to offer the same opportunity to others. That was the inspiration for Arawai.”
Tama says Arawai is for anyone who would like to explore an holistic therapeutic approach to well-being but as young Māori men have some of the highest prison and suicide rates, they are a strong focus.
“We can manaaki them, tautoko them and as tangata whenua, we are well-placed to help them reconnect with their whakapapa, the moana me te whenua. We can inspire them and encourage them to adopt better lifestyles.”
The benefits of diving and connecting to the moana have also been strong for Rema. He talks about the therapeutic nature of diving and how it has helped him to be a calm influence in his social worker role; and he talks about the proven benefits of an active lifestyle.
“Arawai is an alternative way of dealing with difficulties and trauma. We want to reconnect our people to the land and to the moana through activity, so they can re-establish their own sense of identity.
“Studies show that physical activity opens doors for people, so we are creating a safe, positive environment where whānau can empower themselves.”
The pair are excited about the future of Arawai and after receiving Te Pūtahitanga funding in 2020, they are now establishing themselves as a business entity.
“It’s been a full-on very rewarding journey and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Te Pūtahitanga’s help. We’ve had an excellent support group along the way – Brendon McIntosh, Tracee Lee and Steve Coombe, Nathan Tau, Hemi Te Hemi, Bronwyn Boon, Chase Haley, Tiana Mihaere and Jess Collins, Rory Burt, Harlem Uiti-Collins, Stacey Reynolds, Geoff Ockwell and our whānau. That’s made the big difference for us.
“We’ve had some terrific feedback from our participants too, and we’ve been humbled to watch many make a positive shift to a point where they are able to gather kai, cook and eat with their whānau, to laugh again and to function fully in their communities.
“Being part of that change is one of the most special things for me. When I see whānau who have always wanted to gather their own kai, finally reach out and pull their first pāua off the rocks – that’s special. To see the amount of mauri there, to see the smiles on their faces, to see them sharing their stories with their whānau – that’s what lets us know we are doing the right thing for our people.”