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Why our Wairua needs a Why

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why – Mark Twain.

It goes without saying that we all know the detrimental effects to the wairua(spirit) of a person in not finding their why in the world….sadly our depression and suicide rates speak to that.

I bet many of us are only within a few degrees of separation from knowing some young person whose life ended before their time because they were struggling to see meaning for living.

In a shallow world where our young people are faced with shaping their identity off TikTok, or their sense of belonging and self esteem is based on the number of likes and comments on their latest social media post, is there really hope for our youth?


To date, societal interventions to our suicide problem often focus on education, ensuring our young people have mental health supports, building resilience and supporting each other. But have we underestimated the importance of helping young people find their sense of purpose and their why?

I want to pose 3 questions for us all to consider:

  1. How does a young person find their why?
  2. How is a young person’s mana and wairua enhanced by finding their why?
  3. How can we help in the process?

Last week as I started my journey launching Ngāwai Enterprises, I had the privilege of being reminded of my own why as I sat down alongside two ‘fathers of the faith’ when it comes to youth development – Lou Davis from Te Ora Hou Northland, and Lloyd Martin from Praxis New Zealand (both featured right in the picture above during Youth Development training). By ‘fathers of the faith’, I mean both have more grey hairs on their head than me when it comes to their time working in youth development! 🙂

As I reflected on many of the young people I have supported over the past 20+ years, many who are now in their late 20’s living their best life, Lloyd reminded me that many of the young people he started with are now in their 40’s! Meanwhile, Lou began his life in youth group as a young person in the early days of Te Ora Hou, where he now heads up the Whangarei contingent who have just opened their new six million dollar complex in Tikipunga after 40 years serving young people of Whangarei. The Te Ora Hou Whangarei contingent now has about 40 staff impacting the lives of hundreds of young people, and I’ve met many young adults giving back to their communities whose lives were transformed by Te Ora Hou. These two individuals are both youth-work legends in my mind and being around them that day not only lifted my own wairua, but more importantly, it reminded me why the 3 of us are still in the game of youth-work. We found our why. Our why was all about helping young people find theirs! It was a timely reminder for me.


As a qualified youth worker, I have a strong belief in the power of developmental relationships in bringing transformational change to our next generation. Let me be clear about developmental relationships. These are not just relationships with young people for relationships sake, nor just doing stuff with young people to keep them ‘off the street’. Instead, developmental relationships take our young person on a journey of transformational change…..the initial result being that a young person’s mana is enhanced and they discover their why…..the final result cannot be simplified in words, but only by looking around in the world to all those young people who grew into adults and are now living out their why and know their purpose on this earth. They’re the people that are making the world a better place in which we live, living their best life. Why wouldn’t we want that for every young person’s future?


So how can you support our tamariki and rangatahi (children and young people) to find their why and live their best life?


Here’s a couple of initial tips….


Belonging: Don’t underestimate the need for children and young people to feel like they belong. Ensure your classroom, home, workspace, community all make a young person feel like they belong there. Go out of your way to help them form an attachment to not only the space, but also the people in that space. Think – How are my words and actions encouraging a young person to feel like they belong? I recall a conversation I once had with a prominent Auckland High School Principal for a young person I was supporting who argued that the first step in this person achieving was attending school. I reminded him that the first step in my young person attending school was being made to feel like they belong!

Competence and Achievement: Do you recall seeing a child taking their first steps and the sense of celebration in the room as the adults all praised the child and the child became proud and confident in the praise and therefore kept trying again and again with a sense of achievement on their face? The reality is competence and achievement are both mana enhancing requirements for our young people to experience. It enhances their mana. Often though in our classrooms, homes, workplaces we become so focused on the task at hand we forget to stand back a little and recognise the unique individual strengths and talents that each of our young people hold and bring to the table. For example, in a relay race is the most important person the runner that won the race, or the one that helped the caretaker set the relay up, or the one that took photos and made a great video of the relay? Hopefully you answered each is important in its own right! And so it is with our young people. The child that may struggle to master mathematical equations may have the greatest musical interest. And if you recognise, praise, nurture and develop that musical interest, you not only help them feel like they belong, but you give them a sense of competence and achievement which often helps them along the road to finding their why.

Here at Ngāwai Enterprises we are all about developing the why in a young persons wairua. We can help you create environments that will help enhance developmental relationships and help young people discover their why – our future depends on it! Check out our website or send us an email to [email protected] if you’re interested in our services.


Written by Ant Backhouse, QSM. Director for Ngāwai Enterprises. (Read Ant’s Bio here)

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