When the Tainui waka was dragged across the Auckland isthmus to arrive at the Manukau Harbour, the Tangata Whenua realised that they had found a real taonga (treasure).

The beautiful natural landscape was abundant with shellfish and clean water for bathing. In fact before the industrial development that has dumped millions of tonnes of sediment into the Manukau, there were plenty of sandy beaches in areas that have now become mudflats bordering water that is now not suitable for swimming.

The population that surrounds the Manukau has some of the toughest social challenges of all of New Zealand. A friend who works at Middlemore Hospital tells me that cases arrive there that you would normally only expect in a third world country.

To engage with people to improve their behaviour around littering, first of all they need to be inspired as to why. You can't ask someone not to drop plastic on the ground because it will affect the ocean if they are not even familiar with it.

We were shocked, when a school group from Manurewa joined us to clean up Waiheke Island, that over a quarter of them - 10-12 year olds - had never been to the beach before. They live less than 15 minutes drive away.

There is no doubt that the area and the people could do with some love.

So when it came to looking at where we could most effectively launch youth ambassador program - where we develop the capacity of young people through free leadership training with a focus on financial literacy, public speaking, technological literacy, communications and project management - we did not have to look far.

The Manukau Harbour has over 386 kilometres of coastline and we are planning to attempt to clean up the entire thing next year in February/March with a large-scale event.

The project is aimed at using the coastline as an emotional touchpoint to develop connectedness to nature, the capability and capacity of communities, as well as create positive storytelling opportunities.

Storytelling is the oldest form of communication and, I believe, much more suited to some of the people that we work with who are inappropriately subjected to a western education system.

So we realise that if we can gather stories about the people and the place that it will be easier to engage people to look after it. One example of this that inspires me is Jasmine Mclean and her Humans of South Auckland project.

She is a young leader that has given people a voice to express themselves, with absolutely astounding results that tackle some of the most difficult challenges that our society faces.

Jasmine is a teacher from South Auckland that has stared these challenges in the eye and decided to get up and do something about it. You can support her in her quest - to print a book of South Auckland stories and give one copy to every school in the area - by voting for her in the AMP peoples' choice scholarship here.

If you have stories that will engage and inspire people about South Auckland, the Manukau Harbour or your local community, they are a very powerful tool, so I would love to hear them. Please leave a comment or send me an email and we will use them to motivate people to look after the places that we all love.

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