Teen devastated by tragedy gets new start at art collective

12:13 pm on 22 March 2017

A young Kaikohe man who says he has suffered more tragedy than most people his age is using art to transform his future.

A stone carving by a Kaikohe teenager at the Kākano Youth Arts Collective.

Photo: Supplied

Hemi* vividly remembers being taken away from his family by Child Youth and Family as a young boy.

It was "devastating" for him and his sister being removed by police, he said.

"I was actually in the bath, and getting into bed, because I'd just finished dinner.

"My sister was getting dragged out of the house. I was only, like, a kid, getting dragged into a police car ... so many people outside, it was just embarrassing.

The Kaikohe teenager said it was alleged his parents were violent towards him but he said that wasn't the case.

After four years in foster care he came home. Days later, his father had a heart attack and died in his arms.

Three years ago his mother moved the whānau to Auckland for a fresh start.

When a student at his new school teased him about his Māori surname, he struck out and was expelled.

Hemi said not being at school, having no money, and lots of unresolved pain led him down the wrong path. He began committing burglaries.

"Just things that we really need, pretty much food. I'd look at my family and they were sitting there, hungry as.

"I'd just get angry."

But someone saw promise in Hemi and offered him a place at Kākano Youth Arts Collective in West Auckland.

Kākano Youth Arts Collective creative director Mandy Patmore

Kākano Youth Arts Collective creative director Mandy Patmore Photo: Supplied

Creative director Mandy Patmore said she loved working with "kids other people would deem a little bit tricky".

"They're really fun actually, and they've got no filter.

"And when you see those kids totally engaged in something ... you know you've cracked it.

Ms Patmore, who has her own children, said she got more than she bargained for when she took on the job.

"I am just an artist and I didn't realise that when I started to do this work that so much more would come up. I find myself being a social worker of sorts, a mother of many."

That's exactly how the students feel about Mandy Patmore.

Hemi said the place felt like home. "She's like my mum .... she tells me what to do and stuff - 'you go to the dentist' - she's cool"

Ms Patmore said the secret to Kākano's success was the relationships.

"We treat the kids with respect and we respect the same in return - and we get it.

"We have really clear rules ,not very many, just common sense ones; don't steal our things, don't tag our walls, don't be dicks to each other and that's honestly how we say it because its their language and it works."

This year, two former students will enter the Bachelor of Art and Design degree at Unitec - an achievement Ms Patmore says is pretty good for kids who left mainstream education at the age of 12.

"Kākano means seed, and what we do is look for the tiniest bit of interest and we grow it.

"It's just good education."

Hemi is carving in Oamaru stone, and his dream one day is to carve a waka, one that is big enough to take his whānau out on the ocean.

*Not his real name

Artworks at the Kākano Youth Arts Collective

An artwork at the Kākano Youth Arts Collective Photo: Supplied