First I would liek to thank the staff and management of Te Whare Whai Hua for inviting me to speak – it was quite unexpected and very humbling to be asked to open this new facility!

A seed is planted…

TWWH started out as a conversation in early 2001 around the kitchen table at Jo Ashwell’s house in DeLatour Rd. A number of the girls in our Te Ora Hou youth club had become pregnant, wanted to keep their baby but were dropping out of school. We thought we might get support for the idea from Paul Smith, the Guidance Counsellor at Lytton High School so apprached him and he was very supportive. The Lytton High BOT got right in behind the idea and along with the JN Williams Trust underwrote the refurbishment of a couple of old classrooms that would become TWWH.

Our first students

Michelle, Monique, Susannah and Renee started in February 2002 at 2 Crawford Rd – the old Admin Building for the freezing works where Te Ora Hou was based. They were all in one big room with the babies on one side of a very thin curtain while the mamas sat around the old board room table trying to study their unit standards and correspondence work. Later these students were joined by others like Lovene, Hine, Sam & Pat and it is great to see so many of the graduates here today.

Education as liberation

If you are brown, young and female in this country the odds are stacked against you and your children – this society still privileges white, old men – and their values and beliefs continue to dominate the decision-making processes of our communities and country. 

Education at TWWH should be about permission to transgress – transgress the racist, ageist and sexist paradigms that we are born into. 

This is particularly important for men: last weekend 30 local men listed what we consider the causes of men’s violence – one of the main issues identified was our identity as men… 

From an early age boys are taught that we need to have the control in relationships, that we are initiators and emotionally detached power-brokers – the ‘Warriors’ who must dominate others. 

Conversely girls are taught to be objects for male gratification, that their value is in their appearance and their primary role is as servants of male desire and as procreative baby-making machines. Intellectually we know all of this is wrong but we continue to perpetrate such destructive attitudes when we do not challenge them. And while we lament the deaths of baby Jhia in Wanganui a few weeks ago and Nia this week – the dominant voices call for tougher penalties instead of radical social change and challenging our gender identities.

I hope that the curriculum taught in this facility starts to produce a lot more critical thinking and action by the students.  We have been sucked into seeing education almost exclusively as a training ground for producing workers to make money for business owners.

The curriculum in this facility must include teaching and learning that challenges the economic, political and cultural elites. It must encourage personal growth, responsibility taking, entrepreneurship and critical reflection amongst young parents and their whanau.

Hope & Courage

Te Whare Whai Hua is a symbol of hope and courage – it demonstrates that members of this community are committed to supporting the most vulnerable members of our community – our children.

It bears witness to the courage of young mothers, their partners and whanau who are willing to get up off the couch and stand up for their right as citizens of this country to a high quality public education.

TPU’s under review

I despaired when I heard Teen Parent Units are currently under national review as the Ministry of Education thinks they are too expensive and is reconsidering their future.

Most communities around the country are not lucky enough to have a place like this – fortunately we got in early but we should support the right of every student to an education that is accessible, affordable and appropriate.  

Future Fruit

We have seen the good fruit produced by TWWH over the past few years and the extensions will provide opportunity for more of the 100 teenage young women who get hapu in our community to continue their education.

Sex education is obviously not working in our community – we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the country and many of these result in terminations that leave deep trauma in the people involved – let alone the tiny lives taken. While the debate on reproductive rights and wrongs continues – places like Te Whare Whai Hua make it easier for young women to keep their children and find extra support as new parents.

The measure of success for TWWH should not be just how many students achieve NCEA or go on to further study or employment. It must be how many of the students go on to be great parents, community leaders and supporters of social transformation that creates much more loving whanau and healthy communities.

Congratulations to the staff of Te Whare Whai Hua who have worked so hard to make this place what it is, to the Board of Lytton High School for your ongoing commitment to the facility, to the government for eventually coming on board, to partners and whanau who support the mamas, and to the current and past students who inspire all of us with your sustained commitment to reaching your full potential as wonderful human beings.

Thank you very much.

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