Stuck in traffic on Auckland’s Southern Motorway, on her way home from another day at her unsatisfying and uninspiring mahi, Ngahuia Thomas knew there had to be a better way.
“I thought about what is it that’s going to make me happy. The next night I did some online research about teaching degrees and I enrolled,” she say.
Three years later, Ngahuia is about to complete her He Korowai Ākonga – Bachelor of Education (primary teaching) degree at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Māngere.
“It’s the best decision I’ve made in my life really. There is nothing worse than getting up in the morning and dreading going to work.”
The three years of study has been challenging for Ngahuia (Ngāti Whatua, Te Rarawa) but it has changed her life.
“Transformation through education describes my experience really well. My life was quite toxic and I was making poor decisions. But with the help and support from our kaiako, and her genuine belief in my ability to succeed, that gave me the push I needed to continue,” she says.
“I’m very grateful, I’m now at a point where I’ve nearly finished my degree, I’m far more healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m in a much better space.”
While she had initially just wanted a career change - after previously working in call center and admin roles - her real inspiration came part way through her degree studies.
“In the second year I saw some of the struggles our Māori and Pasifika students go through and that inspired me to want to help our people, to support them. It comes with its challenges but is much more rewarding and satisfying.”
Ngahuia says she was attracted to studying with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa after learning the degree was grounded in te Ao Māori values and principles, something she had wanted to learn more about anyway.
“It’s been a journey learning about my cultural identity. It showed me that I needed to go home and reconnect with whānau, learn about my whakapapa, be on our whenua again,” she says.
“It was quite mana-enhancing and something I want to continue going forward. I don’t know if this would have been possible in a mainstream institution.”
During the practical aspects of the course, Ngahuia returned to teach at her primary and intermediate schools in South Auckland and says that was a “very special” experience.
“I could say to the tauira, ‘I’ve been in your shoes, I am one of you’, I felt very much at home.”
She is now ready to put what she has learned into practice and says that’s largely down to the support of her kaiako.
“I feel like our kaiako genuinely care about us, that’s been vital in this degree. That’s why I came to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and that’s the beauty of this course.”