Kerilyn Rangi is really proud of herself. Since January the Te Awamutu-based mum has been working hard with her crew at the Pūniu River Care nursey at Mangatoatoa Marae in Te Mawhai – a role that has given her more than just a job, she says.
Through the Ministry of Social Development, Kerilyn was offered the chance to complete a certificate in Introductory River Enhancement (Applied) through hands-on work and study modules with PRC, creating both work experience and a career pathway on completion of the qualification.
Kerilyn admits she was hesitant at first.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, I didn’t have any experience in environmental practices and sustainability, and I didn’t know if I would like it,” she says.
And she admits her concerns vanished pretty fast after her first day on site in February and now says it’s the best job she has ever had and loves coming to work each day.
It’s easy to see why.
Visiting the marae ground and nursery on a chilly Spring morning, the atmosphere is warm and inviting. It is time for whakarite – the morning meeting with karakia (prayer), panui (news) and how the mahi (work) will run today. Local kaumatua Uncle Hone addresses the team, and the respect for this elder is obvious. Team members chat about their work, instructions are given, waiata (song) echoes out from the group, and they listen to historical accounts from Uncle Hone, used to link the past to the learnings of today.
Connections to te ao Māori are strong here.
Throughout the duration of the work and course modules, there are also days spent in the marae learning about a range of topics, including the Kingitanga movement; Matariki and the story of each star; sports days using traditional Māori games; and tikanga days where waiata and haka are taught.
For Kerilyn, it has given her the opportunity to connect with te ao Māori, something she had never had a chance to experience before.
I had never grown up with that side of my family, so to learn about everything has been awesome. Being out here has given me so much more than a job, I have learnt so much and I am really proud of myself. I know I have come a long way.
“I had never grown up with that side of my family, so to learn about everything has been awesome. Being out here has given me so much more than a job, I have learnt so much and I am really proud of myself. I know I have come a long way.”
The learnings also continue to her tamariki, she says.
“My daughter has taken a real interest in the work I am doing and what I am learning. She is now taking horticulture at school next year, which is cool.”
Kerilyn graduates from the programme in December, complete with her qualification and months of horticultural experience behind her.
Nursery manager Ngaire Steedman says te ao Māori shapes the mahi being completed onsite.
“Our ancestors did it this way, our tupuna – it’s a no brainer that this is what we have to do. The work becomes knowledge, and that knowledge helps us to connect with the whenua,” Ngaire says.
PRC’s goals have been to grow and then plant one million native plants and trees per year in and around waterways and on retired land. Each year since its inception, those numbers have risen, with last calendar year reaching past the 750,000 mark. This year their primary focus is on producing trees at a high quality grade to ensure a successful growth rate, and customer satisfaction guaranteed.
“It is sometimes overwhelming with the work we have to do, but we look back at what we have achieved so far, and we have already done so much,” Ngaire says.
Each growing season PRC works across four major projects, and this season has seen plantings underway on retired land on the outskirts of Waikeria Prison, along the Pūniu River, and more.
The mahi is ongoing and each day is part of the long process of growing the many native plants and trees they need. Each grown from seed, then once large enough, plugged into pots, nourished, and cared for until large enough to be planted off-site. Each step of the process from beginning to end is set out in the six educational modules carried out by the team.
Nothing is wasted here – plants that don’t flourish are reutilised in other ways. It is part of the whole life cycle,” Ngaire says.
“Everything we do here aligns with our values.”
Pūniu River Care Inc. an established marae-based river care group, an incorporated society and a New Zealand registered charity. Developed in 2015 by Shannon Te Huia (Ngāti Paretekawa, Ngāti Maniapoto), and the four Marae along the Pūniu Awa, including Mangatoatoa Pā, Rāwhitiroa / Ōwairaka Marae, Aotearoa Marae and Whakamaramara Marae.
A core value of PRC is our responsibility to give back to the Marae within the Pūniu River Catchment. Part of this responsibility is our commitment to empower our staff to engage in the tikanga and kawa of each of the Marae which connect with Pūniu River, to ensure these practices are upheld within our people.
The overall vision of Pūniu River Care is “Safe places, healthy water, healthy people”. The kaupapa (purpose) of PRC is to enable the local community to be involved in the environmental restoration and enhancement of the Pūniu River catchment, the wider Waipā and lower Waikato catchment areas, while providing employment and work experience opportunities for local people.
For more information on Pūniu River Care check out their website.