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A haven for whanau

For the past seven years, the Haurakis of Ruatoria have opened their home to rangatahi and whānau wanting to lead healthier lives. Reporter Akula Sharma talked to them.

I had a moment of realisation when I was high as a kite and my daughter, 10 at the time, walked in and said she'd had enough”, says Fallon Hauraki. This changed her life.

Fallon has three children and is a whāngai mother to eight others. She is married to Reuben Hauraki.

“One day we decided that we didn't want the new generation going through what we went through. We didn't want them going through that system or ending up in jail.”

Fallon grew up in Tikitiki, where she says drinking was the norm.

As a kid, she said, “you don't think it is not OK, you just think that's how it is”.

“So when I grew up and had kids, I partied all the time. Until that moment of realisation kicked in.”

Reuben grew up in Ruatoria and was raised by his nanny. It was after her death that he went off track.

Then he met Fallon and they both decided to turn their lives around.

“We have come a long way and we are happy with the mahi that we do now for other whānau. It motivates others to change their ways.”

The first child the Haurakis helped was their nephew.

“He came to our door one day, out of the blue, and asked us if he could stay the night. After that, he kind of never left.

“About three months had passed and we received a phone call from Oranga Tamariki about our nephew. They were searching for him.

“We had no idea our nephew was under their care. We found out he had done all these stupid crimes — theft, stealing cars, breaking and entering shops.

“Now for three months he had completely stopped, and for that reason they (Oranga Tamariki) left him with us.

“We went through the vetting procedure. Reuben's history with the gang was let go and that's how we became Oranga Tamariki caregivers.

“It took our nephew about six years to change, but he has a job now — a boy we had previously thought would spend the rest of his life in jail like his father.”

After that, it became normal for rangatahi to come to their door to stay the night and sometimes never leave.

“It is very hard for them, because they feel like they are betraying their families for wanting to do better.

“Some kids just come for a break, which is fine.

“These kids have lived on broken promises for far too long, so when you promise to do something with them, do it — whether it's horse riding, taking them to the beach, fishing.”

The couple say the mahi is most rewarding for them when they see the young people change for the better.

“We have 13-year-old twins in our care with the most vicious mouths — they had zero filter when they came to us.

“Now, they use their manners, words like ‘Please' and ‘Thank you'.

“They went from ‘F*** you b****. I am going to kill you' to ‘Thank you aunty'.”

“Young people need someone to talk to, they need to know they are not alone.

“We think a listening ear, whānau support and good kai can make a big difference,” said the Haurakis.

Rangatahi are not the only ones benefiting from Fallon and Reuben's manaakitanga (hospitality and kindness).

Their property on the outskirts of Ruatoria township is developing into a papakainga (communal housing and facilities) where they offer practical support to whānau and rangatahi who are actively seeking healthier and more positive lives.

They have six cabins around their whare (home) where right now, they are supporting 26 whānau members.

“Our biggest reward is seeing those whānau whose lives have been badly affected by addiction to methamphetamine, stop the use of drugs and flourish.

“It takes a lot of support and courage to get off meth. We have done it ourselves, so we help them with a lived-experience approach.

“Now we have made connections with the Mauria Te Pono Trust in town who share their knowledge and resources with us.”

They have had little support from the community and agencies in terms of finances or otherwise.

“We just do hāngī and fundraise ourselves to support the work we do for kids.

“Because we don't know the ins and outs of being a legal entity, Oranga Tamariki funding won't come to us.

“E Tu Whānau and Mauria Te Pono Trust have supported our mahi.

“People still judge us because of our past. They can't get past the patch, but we keep going strong in the mahi for the kids because that's a priority and what's most important.”

WHANAU SUPPORT: Reuben and Fallon Hauraki with their six-month-old mokopuna, Poihaere Hauraki. Picture by Paul Rickard