College dropout to multi-award winning mental health practitioner

By Leah Te Whata

A report by the National Centre for Māori Health says Māori are more likely to want help with reducing drug and alcohol use than non-Māori. Now Careerforce Māori Trainee of the year Turaukawa Bartlett is providing health and wellness services to Māori families.

"I was once a rangatahi who got labelled a druggie, who was a high school dropout and was told I was never going to become anything. I remember one specific moment when I received a letter from my school and I had failed NCEA Level 1."

It was his son's diagnosis with Autism Spectrum Disorder that provided him with an incentive to seek higher education.

"The experience got me and said maybe you can help other whānau and possibly bring that no matter what happens in your life you can turn it around."

Barlett runs a youth programme at Paeroa College called Te Ara Tapu a Tāne, where struggling students learn leadership skills with a focus on harm reduction.

"While I'm there to talk about drugs and alcohol, we don't talk about that. What we do is we try and find connections to whakapapa, to your whānau, to who you are and where you come from and what you want to do."

Through his work with Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki, Barlett is able to provide health and wellness services to Māori families.

"I remember the first time a whānau said I don't need you anymore and I was devastated, but at the end of that, that's what it's about. We're trying to work so that we become redundant so whānau can have that self-advocacy, they can be resilient for themselves."

He is now studying a Level 7 addictions counselling diploma and hopes to inspire the younger generation to set their sights on better things.