A distinctive programme using a three-pronged attack to overcome the serious issues facing Northland's youth - including alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and suicide - has been launched in Whangarei.
The Promoting Whanau and Youth Resilience programme was launched at Tikipunga High School yesterday thanks to $200,000 funding from the Ministry of Health, with the aim of empowering the region's youth and giving them and their communities the resilience to deal with the complex issues and risk factors youth face today.
Tania Papalii, the Northland District Health Board (NDHB) promoting whanau and youth resilience in Te Tai Tokerau co-ordinator, said the programme had three approaches to the issues affecting Northland's youth.
There were 39 suspected cases of suicide in Northland last year, with three involving youngsters aged 10-15; 12 aged 15-19 and five aged 20-24.
Nineteen of the suspected cases were Maori and 27 involved males.
Ms Papalii said the programme would provide support workers for young people to talk to and information about where they could go for help.
One part of the programme is a two-hour presentation which will tour around schools in the region that includes the powerful play Matanui, which deals with many of the issues the region's youth face.
It's based at the fictional Matanui (named after the mountain near Ngunguru, known as a place to go for foresight) and looks at a young man who returns to his tribal homeland to find it shrouded in pain and silence and full of problems among its youth.
He later learns that his father had killed himself but the play ends with all characters seeing hope in the future.
Wiremu is played by 20-year-old Vinnie Bennett.
Another plank is a "Travellers" programme, a school-based programme designed to help young people transition to high school and deal with change and difficult life challenges.
The third part is professional development training to build whanau and community capacity to identify and respond appropriately to risk factors in their own whanau/hapu and community.
The NDHB is funding three training programmes in Whangarei, Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kaitaia.
Ms Papalii said the programme would be effective as it had relevance and resonance with the region's youth. Matanui, particularly, with its straight-talking and powerful messages, would strike a chord with youth, she said, and encourage them to seek help, if they needed to.
"We are looking to talk about the positive side of things and the positive things we are contributing to help our youth. We want to talk about raising our youth's resilience, we want to talk about the issues affecting them in a safe way and come up with solutions with them," she said.
Hannah Young, of Northland youth suicide awareness group, The RAID movement, said the programme would get those messages across to youth as well as inform them about where to seek help.
Ms Young was particularly impressed with the play: "It's very, very good. I think it will really move young people. It speaks to them in a language they can understand and they will be able to see parts of themselves and people they know in it. It's very convincing."
Ms Young said it was important that the community talked about issues such as suicide, and the factors that led to it, in order for the problem to be overcome.