Zion - Doing the Mahi Differently


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It’s been a heck of a ride for Zion Tauamiti. After a near-death experience the big-hearted youth worker is back, helping the kids of Christchurch - only this time he’s doing it differently.

Of all the places to be, Zion Tauamiti was in a waiting room at Christchurch Hospital when his body “shut down.”

The Christchurch youth worker was awaiting surgery on his elbow in June 2018 when he went into cardiac arrest. Nurses nearby frantically performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Tauamiti was rushed to intensive care where he says he “flatlined twice”.

It was almost a week before he came to, startled to find family gathered at his bedside. “I remember waking up. it was surreal,” recalls Tauamiti, “almost like waking up in your room except your room had machines and lights brighter than normal ... I had no idea what was going on.”

This week, Frank Film meets a rejuvenated Zion Tauamiti, staging his return to youth work in Christchurch East.

When Frank Film first met Tauamiti in 2017 for its story on the post-quake, youth crisis in the city’s east, he was working in suicide prevention for He Waka Tapu, a kaupapa Maori organisation, headquartered in Pages Road, Aranui.

Tauamiti admits his work was all-consuming and led to his body  “burning out.”

It was a massive health scare. Tauamiti was in an induced coma for 6 days as his body healed from the cardiac arrest. An online support page attracted more than 4000 well-wishers from around the country, All Blacks amongst them.

Fully recovered, Tauamiti knew he would return to work with young people in the east in a different role and has spent the last year plotting his future.

“I don’t want to go back to the old way of never turning it off, being weighed down.” he says. “It’s a whole new world for me.”

A world consumed by trust paperwork and funding applications. The 35 year-old is establishing a charitable trust - Healing Song Pese Wairua - in order to secure funding for his wellbeing programmes in schools.

Amy Page-Whiting, a senior pastor at Cashmere New Life church, is trust chairperson and a believer in Tauamiti’s grassroots approach to mental health and wellbeing.
“Traditional funding methods require you to front up to a school counsellor or GP, that’s quite scary,” says Page-Whiting. “Ringing someone who understands where you are … what’s going on, that’s the attractive alternative and that’s Zion.”

With funding yet to be secured, Tauamiti is piloting free programmes in local schools, including bringing Maori and Pasifika identities to meet with pupils.

When Frank Film visits Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Whanau Tahi, Tauamiti is accompanied by former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder, who spends time chatting with pupils and playing touch rugby with them on the school field..

“A big element of my programmes in schools is getting cool people to come,” says Tauamiti. “Nehe's a friend that I met through a men’s group we’re part of, he's got a big heart for community … as soon as I told the kids he was coming they were pretty excited.”

Anglican Life youth worker, Paul Hegglun, who’s also on Tauamiti’s trust, says mental health is still a big issue for Christchurch’s youth. “A lot of our young people are committing suicide, choosing to end their life, it’s a crisis  … it hasn’t got better at all, it’s pretty bleak out there.”
Hence, Hegglun’s decision to back Tauamiti’s ‘ground up’ approach. “You need good qualified people doing good qualified, good quality work but there’s something special to what Zion’s doing, he’s doing something that comes from his person.”

It was Hegglun who encouraged Tauamiti to work within the framework of a trust. Setting it up with no prior experience, and on a borrowed laptop, hasn’t been easy. Now his trust is registered and incorporated, Zion Tauamiti can get to work on the real stuff, with the kids.