A born communicator - Eru Kapa-Kingi

Whangarei secondary school student, youth suicide prevention leader and soon-to-be Te Taitokerau Youth MP Eru Kapa-Kingi talks to Lindy Laird about what is important to him.

If the mightiest powers in the universe leaned down and bestowed upon Eru Kapa-Kingi a one-off gift with which he could change lives he would rid the world of suicide.

The Whangarei 16-year-old answers in a flash when asked what gift he would choose. But he also makes it clear he doesn't dwell on fanciful what-ifs and mythical one-offs.

Eru and his young colleagues in the youth suicide prevention Raid Movement know there is no magic wand to wave that can end the darkness and pain, the causes and the legacy of suicide.

Instead they're sticking with the tenet that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

"By caring, by reaching out to our fellow youth. By action."

That stance inspired the group's name, Raid, which is not an acronym: "It literally means to raid the mind.

To get in there and change something."

To take away the fatal thoughts in that troubled mind.

If only it were that easy, but Eru and co know you've got to start the journey somewhere. It's one thing to walk the talk, but quite another to reach the people you want to listen, to whom you are offering the shoulder, saying "we've got your back".

The Raid Movement was started last year by about 20 young people who were deeply touched by the suicide of a fellow student. Then there were more suicides. Then more.

In Northland there are less than the proverbial six degrees of separation, and it was plain to this group that this was an epidemic and these were their friends, whanau, friends of whanau who were dying under that lonely weight.

"We're all people who have gone through the suffering caused by suicide, we're all as one in that. Suicide touches whole communities," Eru says.

"Our motto is 'Life is everything'. The message we want to get across to other young people is that they're not alone no matter how bad things seem. We are right there."

The Raid Movement is not alone, either. Help is available online, via text or facebook, through schools, other services and youth networks such as the Youth Advisory Group which is associated with the Whangarei District Council and Manaia Health and now occupies Youth Space, the former art museum building in Cafler Park.

Raid has some high-profile supporters, like comedian and suicide prevention advocate Mike King.

"He's been great, we keep in touch," says Eru, who has spoken on behalf of Raid at seminars fronted by King on the suicide issue.

Anyone tuning into the movement's website or on YouTube can watch a short video featuring a song by Kerikeri singer/songwriter/teacher/actor Troy Kingi (he was in the "Maori Marley" movie Mt Zion).

Always - and endorsed in that song - the message is "you are not alone, please let us lend you strength".

Eru also has big dreams for his people's future, a fledgling passion for politics, and believes in a good education, traditions, finds strength and meaning in his first language, te reo Maori, and honours, loves and respects his parents for the upbringing they have given him.

He also loves sport, the 94.2kg lad quitting his front-row role in rugby last year to switch to league.

But it is the mettle of his mind that will prove to New Zealand Government leaders next month - as will other young people from around the country - that this country's future is in good hands.

Eru will be Te Taitokerau's representative for the Youth Parliament in July. The Year 12 student from Huanui College at Glenbervie won the role over 11 other nominees. During the selection process carried out at the Terenga Paraoa Marae the candidates were tested on their knowledge of Mana Party policy, te Tiriti o Waitangi, the foreshore and seabed and traditional cultural performance.

They talked about their beliefs and views around subjects such as homelessness in Taitokerau, youth unemployment and the topic that most affected them, youth suicide.

Eru is on firm ground talking about that and he is confident he can speak on the topic if required when making his Beehive debut as a Youth MP.

As for representing the Mana Party, Eru says he shares many of the party's founding principles. He is related to Te Taitokerau MP and Mana leader Hone Harawira and admires his honesty and efforts to represent his supporters.

Politics, art, sports, rights and wrongs, people's strengths and values are common topics of discussion in the Kapa-Kingi household.

"My parents are extremely supportive and very loving, and I was brought up to treat the people I come across in life with respect," Eru says.

He is one of triplet sons; the other two are Tipene and Heemi, and they have a younger sister, Torere. Their father, Korotangi Kapa-Kingi, teaches Maori arts at Te Wananga o Aotearoa and their mother, Marameno, is a general manager with the Ngati Hine Health Trust in Whangarei.

"They've taught me my values and have brought traditional qualities into my life, too," Eru says. "Both my parents have been a strongly Maori influence."

You get the feeling he's a born communicator in anyone's language, although te reo offers an important part of his identity.

"I feel like there's a lot of strength in numbers. With te reo I can connect with a lot of iwi, hapu, whanau in New Zealand and overseas, but it's not only about the language. I also feel I can engage with people on a much wider level ... Maori, Pakeha, people anywhere."

Eru isn't yet sure what's ahead study or career-wise. He's interested in arts and humanities, possibly law, possibly political studies.

Next month's role as a Youth MP in the House of Parliament might help show him the way his future lies. He knows something big will come out of it on a personal level.

"I'm grateful for this opportunity."

- Northern Advocate

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