Funding cut forces Tu Toa founder out of job

By Alexandra Newlove

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Ryan Donaldson has lost his position as co-ordinator of bullying behaviour awareness and prevention project Tu Toa at Whangarei Youth Space because of lack of funding. Photo / John Stone
Ryan Donaldson has lost his position as co-ordinator of bullying behaviour awareness and prevention project Tu Toa at Whangarei Youth Space because of lack of funding. Photo / John Stone

A project tipped to challenge young Northlanders' acceptance of bullying has been discontinued due to lack of funding, leaving a young man who started it without a job.

Whangarei Youth Space's Tu Toa (Stand Tall) Initiative last year created films and raised awareness of bullying among young people, culminating with the promise it would continue to spread the kaupapa in schools, before it unceremoniously petered out in October.

Ryan Donaldson, the 22-year-old who started the project and helped found the youth space, said he was "gutted, angry and ashamed" to see it go.

"Some very dedicated young people put so much time and commitment in Tu Toa and it ended in a year. All this time we were told to not treat this as another project but rather a longtime community movement."

Four groups - Channel North children's television crew Pukeko Echo; CCS Disability Action; LGBTQ youth group WhangaReinbow and members of Whangarei Youth Space - were involved in developing films for Tu Toa, each of which tackled a particular aspect of youth bullying.

Mr Donaldson was chairman of the group that worked for five years to establish Whangarei Youth Space. He said it "gutted" him to have been let go from the staff, though he acknowledged he knew when the project commenced that he was moving onto a fixed-term contract.

"Personally I'm gutted that I'm now out of a job, as I genuinely believed, and was continually told, that I would be looked after by the WYS.

"But ... I have genuinely learnt so much over that last year and met some amazing people that I am very grateful to the WYS for that experience."

Manaia Primary Health Organisation received a grant of $100,000 in October 2014 from MSD's Te Punanga Haumaru for Tu Toa on behalf of WYS.

WYS executive officer Beth Cooper said while she was "very hopeful" the project would be funded for another year, she had been forced to put it on the backburner.

"We knew that that was on the cards and conversations with MSD didn't result in a new contract," she said.

MSD said the fund that originally sponsored the project was not currently open for applications and Ms Cooper said Mr Donaldson's role could not be covered through other funding sources.

"Ryan's had to finish and that was a huge loss for us. We'd love to have him back but unless we get some funding we can't afford that. It's terrible, it's a terrible thing to have to do," she said.

She declined to comment on whether she had given Mr Donaldson any verbal assurances that his job would be safe. Ms Cooper said new WYS projects planned for 2016 included the outreach project Youth Space at Your Place and a series of talks by inspirational speakers.

- Northern Advocate

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