Faumuina F. Maria Tafuna’i

Wayfinding for Life

Generations of young people have been told to suck it up and take a concrete pill, and what that does to your tinana, your wairua, and even your DNA....

Knowing parents who lost their only child to suicide last year spurred Faumuina into creating Wayfinding for Life, a workshop for young people to build emotional resilience and the ability to navigate through life's challenges. A day-long workshop for Year 9 and 10 students was piloted, and then held at two high schools in the Waikato area. “I asked our tohunga, is there something about this framework, this way of thinking, that we can take into suicide prevention?” 

For Māori and Pasifika rangatahi, Faumuina says the Wayfinding model speaks to their whakapapa. “The types of waka they draw - waka taua, waka tangata, waka hourua, waka ama; they are like, ‘This is familiar.’ And I think that’s powerful. We’re not using terminology that comes from a foreign place. Then suddenly, it makes them knowledgeable in the room. They share stories, like ‘One time I was on the waka,’ and their Pākehā counterparts are like ‘Wow.’ For kids it’s really fascinating for us to talk about sailing on the waters to Fiji and Vanuatu.”

So, what do Wayfinding for Life workshops look like? “I always say, it’s like the Polynesian Wiggles. We’ve got these bright yellow T-shirts. We’re totally over the top, hyped up. To reach these rangatahi, you have to go further. You have to make yourself so much more vulnerable, so they will trust you,” Faumuina says. “When they see that you’re prepared to stand up there and sometimes suck… our mode of delivery is that we demonstrate everything.” 

The rangitahi are asked to make a mihi map, to create a song and sing, and engage in self learning exercises, such as ‘The Island of Doom,’ where they name all the things that can go wrong in life. “Then we tell them you have a business, which is a one stop shop on how to fix that thing in five steps, and they create a TV ad,” Faumuina says.  Another exercise is Māhutonga, where rangitahi create a blind poem, by writing a line in response to the question 'What did I learn about myself today?' The paper is then folded over and other students write what they learned about that person. “When the rangitahi unfold them, it's actually so beautiful,” says Faumuina. “I remember one who was a little tough guy, and he’s like, ‘Someone called me a really great student, and no one’s ever called me that before.’”

“We saw that it’s not always about the ones who are the most fragile, but it was how the other students empathised with them, and saw that actually, some of their troubling behaviours are not just them being a dickhead, it’s because they’ve got all this stuff going on at home,” Faumuina says. “Unstable family relationships, there’s all this other stuff going on, and we saw the students wrap around that and awhi them.”

“It’s a navigational mindset, that’s what we’re trying to give kids... this idea that we never know what life is going to be like, and we can’t promise them anything good. What we can assist them with is the ability to mitigate that, the ability to understand who is on your waka. How can I make choices? And also have a forgiving mindset. It’s a journey.”

The schools have cited improved behaviours in the students and there are plans to expand this programme and take it to other parts of the country. 

“Suicide is a systemic problem, yet we do not have a systemic solution,” says Faumuina. “It’s still very piecemeal; six month funding cycles are not the best way to develop programmes. When we consider that a lot of this is a result of trauma from colonisation, because why else would it be so centred in the young Māori population? We think about raupatu, and how generations of young people have been told to suck it up and take a concrete pill, and what that does to your tinana, your wairua, and even your DNA.... for me, being tauiwi, I started seeing this as a responsibility. How do I live here by the grace of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?  By trying to honour that Tiriti with the skills and talents and resources that I have. That’s how I see it.”