A young Levin mum left school at 16 but is now looking forward to a career in psychology.

Tui Travis hated school and like many teenagers she struggled to find her place. Leaving at age 16 to make money, Tui hadn't even achieved NCEA Level One.

She started working at the shearing shed, but an incident left her with a traumatic brain injury.

Tui gave birth to her daughter Tylah not long afterwards, but found the brain injury prevented her from returning to work.

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She faced a decision - sit at home and do nothing or return to education at Levin's Teen Parent Unit, known as Poipoia.

Two years after enrolling at Poipoia, Tui is three credits away from finishing NCEA Level 3.

At the end of year prize-giving last week, Tui was honoured for her perseverance and leadership skills when she received three of the top awards, including a $1500 scholarship from He Huarahi Tamariki Trust.

"The decision to go back to school was the best I have ever made,' she said.

"It was about educating myself for a better future, both for myself and my daughter."

For more than a year Tui has had a piece of her skull missing. A titanium plate was put in in October last year.

Now mostly recovered she said the result was a memory that wasn't the best.

"But I'm lucky to be alive," she said.

After a troubled youth, Tui says she knows there are many young people like herself who are without guidance or support systems.

It is these young people that Tui would like to spend her life helping as a mentor and guide.

"I know what it was like when I was a teenager," she said.

"I want to help them to be the change."

Tui plans to study for a diploma in child and adolescent psychology.

"It's going to be hard, but life is hard. It's what you make of it that counts," she said.

Without the help and support from Poipoia and its staff, Tui says she would probably still be working at the meat works.

"Poipoia is a safe place, they make you feel important and give you support," she said.
"I'm really grateful."

Poipoia is built on the value of Whakapirinatanga, meaning a safe and secure learning environment for all.

This is a value that Poipoia head teacher Ann Stout says Tui has encompassed, full of positivity, respect, integrity and excellence.

"She is a natural leader, one of those people you end up looking up to," she said. "Tui seeks wisdom and is reflective to make decisions for herself."

Currently volunteering for Life to the Max, Tui has found a natural connection in working with the troubled youth programme.

"Not everyone fits that mould, because they are challenging young boys, but Tui is genuinely interested in everybody, she makes people feel at ease and safe.

"That's what the young boys recognise in her," Mrs Stout said.