Oranga Tamariki award winner defies all odds

By Leah Te Whata

Despite being in state care most of her life and struggling through homelessness, eighteen-year-old Celeste Howell (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto) is rising above her circumstances, taking home the Oranga Tamariki Passion Award at this years William Wallace Awards.

She used to sleep in changing rooms at a West Auckland beach, living off oysters scraped from the rocks.

Howell says, "I got through being homeless in changing rooms, I got a good outcome out of that too because it made me try harder to carry on my goals and go towards where I wanted to go in life.  I'm still doing it from now on, I haven't turned back."

She was presented with an Oranga Tamariki scholarship by the prime minister at last nights William Wallace Awards, now nothing can stop her from pursuing her dreams.

"It feels so good because I've come from down here and I've worked my way up to right here and I don't have to rely on anyone else anymore.  I've gotten to that stage where I've got a good outcome from everything and learnt a lot from it all."

Coming up through the child welfare system has been a difficult journey but social worker Amanda Leigh says Howell exemplifies resilience.

Leigh says, "I think young people like Celeste and other rangatahi I work alongside get a lot of resilience out of their experiences and it's that resilience that they're able to push through everything in life and do so well from such a young age."

She's a survivor with a bright future ahead.