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Honoured for his new life course


There were few dry eyes in the packed wharenui at Te Wananga o Aotearoa’s Whirikoka campus when Wiremu Witana was honoured as the Tauawhi man of the year at the men’s centre’s 10-year celebration on Sunday, and his mother Jenny tied his korowai and embraced him in a long, tearful hongi.

Wiremu was a client in the early day’s of the centre and thought he had learned enough to manage his relationship safely, leaving to try to reunite with his partner. He ended up losing her and his seven children due to his violent behaviour.

Four years ago Wiremu tentatively joined Tauawhi’s men’s group, and found the support and mentorship he needed to help him chart a new life course for himself and his whanau. A daughter from his first relationship has been returned to his care and for the past 18 months he has been mentoring other men.

As stated in a booklet produced to mark the anniversary — Ten Years of Tauawhi: Creating a Community of Caring Men — Wiremu’s life experiences with drugs, gang culture, violence, prison and having his children placed in state care allow him to speak powerfully into the lives of other men who are struggling with these issues. He also knows the importance of helping men to express their emotions, having suppressed them himself for so long: “I’d get so wound up inside myself that I would just explode.”

“Since my whole journey of change I’ve never cried so much . . . a lot of those tears are tears of joy, are tears of just being thankful now for where I’m at on my journey.”

Tauawhi, which means “to embrace”, has gone from a staff of two to a team of 12 over the past decade. It has also changed from a “drop-in” support model where most clients were self-referrals or referred by whanau or friends, to having about two-thirds of referrals from justice agencies for non-violence programmes, and being a significant part of the service delivery within its parent body Presbyterian Support East Coast.

Over the past year Tauawhi had 372 clients enrol for services, 311 of them new enrolments.

The pou of Tauawhi, its key originator, the centre’s co-ordinator and a leader in anti-violence efforts nationally, was also honoured on Sunday — unbeknown to Tim Marshall, MC Walter Walsh had a separate run sheet for the end of the event. Tim was presented with a tewhatewha, a long-handled weapon, and there was a series of video acknowledgements of his tireless passion for Tauawhi’s work and for our community.