Hone Erihe says disability is no obstacle to learning te reo Māori.
The Ngāti Kahu man, who suffers from a neurological disorder which has left him severely disabled, spends four hours every Tuesday traveling to and from his reo class in Māngere.
"Māori are always coming up with excuses like 'I’m sick, I’m disabled', well is that right? Go and learn, don’t sit at home embarrassed because you can’t speak Māori."
Diagnosed at 12 years old with the debilitating disease, he slowly lost his ability to walk.
Doctors told him that he wouldn't live past his 16th birthday. Now 29, Erihe decided to go back to school.
He says, "I started going to computer classes and a teacher from Africa asked me in Māori where I was from. At that time I only knew a few words in Māori. It was difficult, I said to him, 'bro, I don’t know what you said', he saw my moko on my arm and at that time it was just a decoration. I finished my computer classes and then started on my journey to learn the Māori language."
Erihe is currently enrolled at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and taught by Mataia Keepa.
"He finds it difficult to use his hands to write, so he has to get someone else to write for him," says Keepa, "This isn’t an easy journey but he’s here, every class, every wānanga, he’s here. He’s usually the first of all of my students to arrive, and he always offers to help me to organise the class. When I think about some of the struggles in my life, they don’t even compare to what he goes through."
Erihe encourages everyone to give te reo a go,
"If we don’t speak our language, then it will be lost, that’s the challenge for us all."