"An education gets you life choices and many of our people don't get those life choices."
This is the sentiment of Ngareta Timutimu, who has participated in all education sectors from early years to tertiary, in governance and management, and in Māori and English mediums for over more than 30 years.
It is her passion for Māori rangatahi (youth) that has led Timutimu on a voyage that today has been recognised in the Queens' Birthday Honours as she has been
appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and education.
Timutimu said it was on behalf of her whānau and her mahi that she accepted the honour, as the humble Matapihi woman said the kaupapa started with the support of her 20-odd uncles and aunties.
"They were great role models for me, they did nothing but serve the marae and our whānau. I think it was the way we were brought up, to serve others not ourselves.
"I wanted to help young Māori people. I saw many barriers and limitations of the system and how it worked in schools over the years, so I really only tried to see what I could do to help."
But, Timutimu said working at the "chalkface" was not enough for her, as she wanted to look at other things that define how schools operate.
So, she completed her postgraduate study. She has made Māori language a critical part of any project she is involved in, which has been reflected in her past work as a secondary teacher up to principal level, and as a tertiary lecturer in education.
Now her commitment in supporting Māori learners to achieve success whilst also understanding who they are informs her current work as Ngai Te Rangi Iwi education manager, engaging with more than 40 schools and early childhood education centres in Tauranga.
"Hopefully, I have done things that add value to Māori students and teachers, but when it comes down to why I am still in the game, it is because getting an education gets you life choices and many of our people don't get those life choices because they haven't been able to get the success from the education system that they are entitled to."
As a member of the University of Waikato Council and chairwoman of Te Ropu Manukura, Timutimu said she is always learning and trying to better the work she does - realising now you can't walk the road alone.
"It's about working with others. You can't do it by yourself, you have to listen and talk to other people and then do what you think is best.
"At the end of it, it has always been how can I help, what can I do to be better at what I am doing?"