The story of Te Aka Matua

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Thank you to SEED Waikato for this story.


During the COVID-19 lockdowns, a network of youth organisations in the region began to regularly connect online. This led them to discover that the youth sector was looking for opportunities to collaborate and develop capability as well as receive well-being support.


From this realisation, Michael Moore from Creative Waikato facilitated several sessions with the youth sector in a bid to discover challenges and opportunities, and soon after, the collective received a grant from the Waikato Plan via Len Reynolds Trust. The collective began to ideate around nurturing connection, wellbeing and self-leadership within the sector, and the $10,000 turned into $52,000 with additional support from Hamilton City Council and Trust Waikato to run a retreat.



Seed Waikato then gathered a select group of young ethnic, queer, disabled, pacifica and Maaori leaders who each would represent youth organisations and their kaupapa across the region to build whanaungatanga and co-design the experience.


This select group of young leaders included:


This group understood the importance of addressing disconnection, burnout, and the lack of access to meaningful educational pathways for the youth sector, and this was the fundamental reason why they chose to create a retreat - one that would nurture the well-being of the youth sector and put a focus on meaningful youth engagement.


Co-designers, Maluseu Monise, Michael Moore, Daynah Eriepa, and Zeta Mohn, were interviewed to reflect on the magic that happens when you bring together a group of passionate and selfless youth workers and leaders for a weekend retreat focused on empowering greater well-being, self-leadership, and connection.


This ground-breaking mahi mashes together community-led development, positive youth development and collective impact principles into practice, and is a powerful reference point for addressing inequities within the Waikato youth sector.


This retreat allowed the hard-working people in the youth sector to take some time to fill their own cup so that when it comes to working with our youth they have the capacity to be truly present. “What people tend to do is they love holding space for other people, they love emptying out their own cup to supply others with that goodness, but we aren’t focusing on how they are doing this for themselves,” says Daynah Eriepa, a member of Te Aka Matua leadership group.


This experience was carefully curated to provide an intentional space where the people attending would feel safe, and ready to arrive fully as their most authentic selves, and share their gifts while learning from others.


A whakatau with a soundscape experience was led by Maaori taonga puoro musician, Horomona Horo, and Jeremy Myall, CEO of Creative Waikato, welcoming everybody into the space with sounds and words that relaxed and empowered, creating the high vibes that continued throughout the weekend.



Group breathwork facilitated by Rawinia Judson, April Broomhead, and Madison Purcell allowed everyone to relax their mind, body, and soul and really drop into a space of learning, wonder, and curiosity about what the weekend was going to bring. To empower everyone to share and receive what they need most as an individual, an ‘unconference’ format was established. There were no external presenters and the ‘two feet rule’ was set - everyone can use their two feet to move between conversations as they choose, empowering people to think and act for themselves. This meant that the participants curated the programme for the weekend, from the conversation topics to shared group wellbeing activities, designing a space that reflected their desires and aspirations from the get-go. The group values created and upheld throughout the weekend were, trust, transparency, and truth.

The retreat saw 95 youth workers represented from 27 organisations stretching from South Waikato to Ngaruawahia attend, with the biggest turn-out being 35% Pacifica, followed by 30% Paakeha, and 21% Maaori. Never before had so many diverse communities come together in this way from the youth sector, and the key to this was a focused effort to cultivate safety and belonging for everyone to be themselves. The youth workers that attended the retreat have huge dreams for our generation. But without the resources and the ability to fill their own cup, it makes it harder and harder to make these dreams a reality. Dreams like:

“No one ever feeling alone in this type of work.” “For us all to be able to provide space for all youth to flourish into their best potential self.” “For all people to serve from a full cup all the time.” “Bringing our energies together as a growing movement of changemakers.”


Maluseu Monise, who is part of Te Aka Matua leadership group mentioned “The current industry model is that we are in abundance. That we are energetic and we have all the ideas in the world and all of the energy to match those ideas, and all of the resources to bring those ideas to life and actually no, that’s not the case.” To give these youth workers the kind of energy, resources, and ideas needed to make these big dreams happen, for the three days of the retreat the participants were tucked away from the real world and had a chance to have conversations that may be hard to have, with people who had open ears and hearts. The genuine respect and love that every single person on the retreat had for one another was truly heartwarming.

How to hold space to be seen, heard, and understood; how to have the courage and vulnerability to speak your story; and how to befriend your ego were just some of the incredibly thought-provoking conversations happening over the weekend. Mixing in creative expression such as catwalking and dance, and deep relaxation including meditation and breathwork for a quiet moment of escape, the weekend provided a space for everyone in whatever capacity they needed at the time.



Video by Ramen Media


“I think that’s the beauty, that all the people who were experts in their own field came through and open-sourced their recipe for surviving in this sector” Maluseu summarised.

The participants of the retreat who sent in feedback noted that it wasn’t just the time they were at the retreat that gave them a sense of peace, but once they had left the safe space the feeling continued. This feedback gave the co-design team the opportunity to really see the impact of the retreat, see how people had integrated the lessons learned into their everyday lives and hear the stories of realizations that youth workers mental health and safety is important and should be a priority too.



One participant shared, “It has built my resilience back up. Before the retreat, I was feeling tired in all aspects of my life and to be honest a little lost. I felt like the slightest wind could push me over. Since leaving I feel my fire relit. I am still tired but am also leaning into saying no more, and seeing where my cup refills. The retreat was a great way to get away and have to connect with myself”

Another wrote, “This was the most meaningful thing I have done with my time in a long time.”

The unwavering wish to do this kind of gathering again was evident in the feedback received, including from one participant who shared, “This was an incredibly valuable space for people to find that true passion within and...an epic place for people in the community to connect and vibe for future collaborations” The passion and drive Te Aka Matua leadership group have for this project is the reason why it shone so brightly in a lot of peoples calendar as the highlight of their year. Sitting down and chatting with the team about what it meant to them to be involved in this and their biggest take-aways brought some very inspiring koorero. Although Daynah wasn’t able to attend the retreat, the planning and becoming a tight-knit group of dreamers had a huge impact on her.

“I’m just so grateful to be a part of this even though I couldn't experience it with them. My mindset has changed in the way that I think about our group now. Before it was like a random get-together every now and then but now it’s like these people are so important to me and I want to continue being that person in that space with them.”


Maluseu’s takeaways were about conversation, understanding what we can do to fill each other’s individual cups, and creating space to learn how everybody likes to receive feedback.


“Having conversations around how do you fuel up from me? How do you like feedback? When we disagree - do we need to wait a week? Do we need to wait a day? Before we can readdress and I think it's those vital conversations that a lot of us in the youth sector are really equipped with, but within my own whanau it’s hard.”

For Zeta Mohn, it was the realisation that youth worker burnout doesn’t have to be a part of the picture. “Te Aka Matua means we are looking into the future, and that we are not happy with the high turnover of staff, it means that we are recognizing the needs of the community.”

Having the retreat was an important first step and she mentioned it would be “great for this to become the norm. With managers, funders, and boards recognising the importance of this and creating the support anywhere they can for the people who work for them.”

Michael Moore from Te Aka Matua leadership group stated, “I really believe in what it [Te Aka Matua] can do in terms of a diverse, meaningful, all-encompassing, all-embracing movement.” “How amazing is it that 95 youth workers did it together, with all our fears and worlds that we go through as people… I got to see walks of life that I’ve always wondered about and I got to see, hear, feel and experience what their lives were like - from their mouths. That’s what it’s supposed to look like - all these walks of life just humming together.”

For more detail on the outcomes of the retreat and how this transformative event created impact you can visit the SEED Waikato website here.

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