22 Dec 2017

Ezekiel Raui: from the Far North to Buckingham Palace

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 22 December 2017

A couple of years ago, 20 year old Ezekiel (Zeke) Raui met Barack Obama. Next year he'll meet the queen to receive an award for his work in leadership and mental health.

Recipient of this year's Queen's Young Leaders Awards, Ezekiel Raui

Recipient of this year's Queen's Young Leaders Awards, Ezekiel Raui Photo: RNZ/ Bridget Mills

Zeke tells Kathryn Ryan that the supportive home environment he came from set him up to achieve, and he wants to create positive environments for other young people.

Zeke's focus on mental health came after a spate of suicides amongst his friends in Northland in 2012.

Young people were more comfortable talking to each other than teachers, counsellors and parent – which led to emotional burdens too heavy for some to carry, he says.

When mental health campaigner Mike King came to speak at Zeke's high school in 2013, the students at first had their guard up, he says.

"The reason for that was because too many times our hopes had skyrocketed when people came up and told us w're going to do this amazing project and we're going to fund this and that, and been let down."

Mike was the first person not promising anything, just sharing his story, Zeke says.

"He made us realise that the world isn't perfect, that we don't need to try to be perfect. As long as we're doing the best we can for ourselves, that's all that matters."

"From there the idea came that if we foster that mentality, if we lower judgement within ourselves and amongst ourselves as young people and create environments were everyone feels confident talking about the positive and negatives and understanding that's life, everyone has their ups and downs."

Zeke established the peer support programme at his old school and is now working with Mike on the suicide prevention pilot programme Tu Kotahi that will be rolled out in four New Zealand schools next year

Doctor and New Zealander of the Year Lance O'Sullivan – who awarded Zeke the first ever Hawea Vercoe Leadership Scholarship in 2014 – is his other mentor.

He applied even though he didn't meet the application criteria.

"The optimism inside of me pushed me to sneak into reception and grab one of the scholarship applications."

Zeke says he's learnt from Lance what leadership in action looks like.

Reinforcement which is both positive and critical – as mentors offer – is a rare combination for many young people, he says.

"They're scared of the judgment of those around them, which is why they don't talk about any of their problems."

Even though many people believe there isn't anything good going on in rural communities like Kaitaia and Tokoroa, mentors can be found, he says.

While his immediate family didn't have a lot of money, they did have a loving and supportive home.

"Me and my three younger siblings have grown up knowing everything starts in the home … My dad is a bus driver and my mum is unemployed and she chooses to be that way to spend more time with us.

"Regardless of anything positive or negative that happened outside of that home, there was always positive reinforcement. There was always lines like 'The world is your oyster, anything is possible as long as you believe.'"

In 2015, Zeke met Barack Obama at the White House Tribal Nations Conference and last year he was named Matariki Young Achiever of the Year. He is currently studying business at Massey University.