Pūkenga Rau opening and SWIFT scholarships boost learning in South Waikato

Ripeka Snowden, Jenna Macpherson and Maine Natua will study nursing, construction, and counselling respectively next year with the financial support of a scholarship from the South Waikato Investment Fund Trust (SWIFT).

Altogether 23 scholarships of $1,000 to $5,000 were announced at the official opening of Pūkenga Rau, the $14 million South Waikato Trades Training Centre in Tokoroa, by South Waikato District Mayor Gary Petley and local MP Louise Upston on 18 November.

Mayor Gary Petley said in 2007 local businesses, the Waiariki Institute of Technology – now part of Toi Ohomai – and local high schools, with funding support from South Waikato District Council kick-started a South Waikato trades training initiative.

“With backing from the South Waikato Investment Fund Trust, this initiative has grown into the Pūkenga Rau we see operating today. This brand new, bigger and better facility will transform opportunity for our local people to learn a variety of trades that benefit our local business sector.”

Louise Upston said SWIFT’s scholarship scheme will ensure more people in our community go on to tertiary education and train for the new jobs that are being created across the South Waikato.  “We want locals to be successful in their studies and scholarship funding removes a major barrier for some students.”

SWIFT Chief Executive Amanda Hema said the scholarships are intended to help South Waikato residents of all ages with the tertiary education, not only school leavers. The scholarship recipients ranged from 16 to 44 years old. Nine are studying at the University of Waikato, 10 at Toi Ohomai and four at WINTEC, with 10 studying a trade, six studying health and two studying education.

“SWIFT endorses ‘whole of life’ education and welcomes applicants who are in employment looking to upskill and or members of the community who are looking to reintegrate into the job market by upskilling or gain employment in another industry sector.

“Representatives from the SWIFT Board and staff, Te Pukenga and the University chose the scholarship winners from 61 applicants. We’ll also be developing a support network for the scholarship recipients, working with our Tertiary Providers to reduce barriers beyond financials.”

Ripeka Snowden is a 42-year-old mother of six children with a very supportive husband. Ripeka has been a support worker for the past 10 years. 

She has admired the work nurses do especially since the response to covid 19 in the community and realised she wanted to pursue a career in nursing when she attended a Wānanga at her marae in Putāruru where discussions were held about opening a Hauora clinic there. She thought, “That’s the place I would like to be” and set about becoming a registered nurse.  In 2024 she will complete Year 3 in her Bachelor of Nursing.

“Many in my family are living with diabetes, heart problems and fighting cancer to name a few, so if I can help just a little towards health education and health literacy within the community, I may be able to assist towards better health outcomes,” says Ripeka.

“I have left off study to a lot later in life for two main reasons, the first that it was not important to my parents to further my education when I was younger as being employed was pushed to the fore. The second was the expense. I saw it as a debt I would rather avoid and it was not until I experienced life that I saw the value of higher education, not for the money gained but for the feeling of accomplishment to help others and leave an example to guide my children to pursue their dreams which I truly believe they can.”

A referee noted, “Ripeka is involved in Tokoroa community service which comprises a large Māori population. As a Māori woman who holds mana whenua of her local iwi and hapu, which ensures her service will remain rooted in her community for generations. This further underscores her commitment to making a positive impact in South Waikato community.“

When Ripeka was told she was a recipient of the SWIFT Scholarship, she was almost in tears and couldn’t wait to tell her husband and children.

For Jenna Macpherson, an 18-year-old student from Forestview High School in Tokoroa, carpentry has been a passion from a young age. She is grateful to had received support from SWIFT to pursue her passion by lessening the financial barrier for a one-parent household. Jenna wants to use her skills to help solve the New Zealand housing crisis, especially in South Waikato.

One of her references, a teacher from Forest View High School, said Jenna defied the stereotypes of women in the trades. She is passionate about construction and design and has been on trades-based training programmes for most of the year where she has flourished. 

35-year-old Maine Natua was born and raised in Tokoroa and always knew that whatever she did, it would be for the greater good of her people – Cook Islands, Pacific Islands, Tokoroa and New Zealand. 

She is a Pacific Community Educator and the Healthy Lifestyles Co-ordinator at South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services (SWPICS). She says it was here that her passion for helping and serving people has been most fulfilling. Her role has allowed her to view, understand and serve people in different ways in the hope it will bring positive change for them, the community, and the generations to come.

Maine has come from a family with a history of academic and sporting success, which has helped inspire her to pursue a Bachelor of Counselling.  She wants to be a role model to her children and other young Pacific mothers to see they can achieve their dreams and achieve in degree-level study.

Ms Hema said the scholarships and the opening of Pūkenga Rau showcased the South Waikato community’s dedication to education and training.

She said Raukawa Charitable Trust and the South Waikato District Council had been powerful advocates for the facility and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit – Kanoa invested about $11 million in the development. Trust Waikato also partnered to fund the Centre.

SWIFT Chair Stephen Veitch had for the last two years overseen much of the development, ensuring the building would meet community expectations. She also acknowledged project managers Veros, builders Marra and designers DCA Architects.

Pūkenga Rau was blessed by Te Kāpaukura, kaumātua Eru Biddle and members of the South Waikato community on 24 June this year. The name Pūkenga derives from personal skill and ability development while Rau is a reference to the many people of South Waikato as well as rarau, the acquiring of knowledge, and Raukawa, the people of the rohe.

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