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When graphic designer Ben Oge visited the island of Upolu earlier this year, to honour the passing of his parents, it sparked a labour of love.

"There's a connection there so when I saw the housing conditions in their village, my heart just sank. I had to action something," the New Zealand-born Samoan says.

What he actioned, is a volunteer initiative called Stewards of the Homeland which he hopes to develop into a charity, following its very first project to renovate a dilapidated homestead in Apia this month.

"In a nut shell, we're helping a single mum and the kids under her care by sprucing up the family house. That's the heart of it really."

Ben says Stewards of the Homeland is all about making home, from the papa kainga up north to a village in Tonga, more liveable and sustainable.

With a crew of 14, Ben has been facilitating this self-funded project since his return from Upolu in February with the plan to keep things simple by sourcing local materials and contractors.

However, as he's not one to do things by halves, the 39-year-old also enrolled himself into the L3 Certificate in Construction Trade Skills - Carpentry at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in March, to boost his own confidence and building knowledge.

As a former Certificate in Tikanga Māori tauira, Ben already had an affinity with TWoA and is now relishing his new career choice after 15 years in the corporate sector.

"Building has always been a passion of mine and I was keen to give the desk job a rest and get out there, get my hands dirty and get amongst it," he says.

"It's been a big shift becoming a full-time student, but the satisfaction from building something yourself is huge. It's been a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet new friends."

He also can't speak highly enough of his kaiako, John Olo-Whaanga as he sees the profile of construction on the rise amongst Māori and Pacific youth.

"I'd encourage more of our people who are considering the trades to grab it with both hands and learn at TWoA. It's so cool what we're doing and it's all relevant to industry, I'm loving it."

Ben's long-term goal, is to one-day link trade students to Stewards of the Homeland, wherever in the Pacific their help may be needed. 

Right now though he taking thoughtful steps by using his entrepreneurial skills to create a clothing line, called Parcel 59, to raise money.  

The label gets its name from the title of his family's plot and although it was initially created for relatives to purchase, it has now extended out to the public. 

A Givealittle page has also been set up to support the cause with gifts in kind, such as building materials, equipment, furniture or even expertise or contacts, also gratefully accepted.

Ben says as well as the good learning experience, another amazing outcome has been seeing all his aiga pull together. 

"I'm a product of the sacrifice my parents made. Like many, they migrated in search of better opportunities for their children and now I want to give back. Hopefully we, in particular those like me who are second generation, can continue to help more families," he says.

"Not only are we restoring a home, we're been building connections and relationships. It's been beautiful to see."

www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/stewards
www.parcel59.com
 
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Published On: 3 Aug, 2017

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