The former head prefect at Whangarei Girls High School has been acknowledged in this year's New Zealand Youth Awards as a cultural change maker. Justice Hetaraka uses the composition of prayer to develop appreciation by Māori students for their own culture. It's been adopted by the school as an integral part of its daily process.
It's a prayer that begins by asking for peace and protection for families, the sick and the needy.
Hetaraka says, "My intention was for the Māori students to feel welcome in class. To feel appreciated and involved but in the end, it became something that enriched everyone's cultural experience and understanding of Māori culture for themselves."
Whangarei Girls' High School Principal Anne Cooper says, "Its a really big thing for the school. It starts the day off really beautifully for every student and every staff member. It belongs to the students it's theirs and they know it. They say its beautiful and it brings a beautiful unity to the school."
Now in her first year of study at the University of Auckland as a law conduit, Hetaraka is one of three Northland youth recognised in this years youth awards. All have been recognised for their strong leadership in driving positive change within their communities.
For Hetaraka having a sense of pride is important to a student's development.
"The most important thing is that our students can be proud that they have something thats Māori. They feel like they belong and it helps enrich their identity. They're from Aotearoa and it's something to be proud of".
Cooper says, "She's got a really deep passion and really deep values. She's just an absolute role model. Girls want to follow her. She's a really special young woman. She's dynamic and shes gonna go a long way."
Hetaraka aims to study legal system and to assist in the future implementation of community goals.