Today is International Women's Day. For more than a century, March 8 has been dedicated to celebrating female achievements and raising awareness about women's equality.
Northland is loaded with inspirational women. One of whom is Teressa (Karen) Poutai-Struginski, an award-winning Northland Police Youth at Risk youth worker, who shared her story with the Advocate.
Poutai-Struginski says the young offenders within her youth programme are always a bit gobsmacked to learn where she – a Northland police employee – called home.
"I grew up in Whangārei in Charles St. I say Charles St because it is a very significant street for me – that was my hood.
"The majority of my siblings were all in gangs ... we never had kai so we used to steal stuff or go to the neighbours to ask for bread or a cup of sugar," she said.
"That was just normal life for us."
Poutai-Struginski, once nicknamed Animal "because I used to fight a lot", struggled with education.
"I couldn't read, I couldn't write ... and when I was asked to read I would throw the books and not listen. All my behaviours would just get stirred up."
At 13, she made a brief appearance in third form (Year 9) before being kicked out of high school.
After which she moved to Te Puke where, after attempts to get her back into education failed, she worked in a kiwifruit orchard under the false impression she was old enough.
Truancy officers soon foiled Poutai-Struginski's charade and she was sent back home to Charles St.
"It was then that my real journey of change started to happen."
The former Northland representative touch player credits two older and "ordinary Pākēha sisters" with changing the course of her life.
"They pretty much met me on the streets, in the gutter of all gutters," she said. "They never gave up on me and they didn't know me from a bar of soap."
Poutai-Struginski said they "invested" in her life by being a consistent presence and by providing her with opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach.
They would often pick Poutai-Struginski and her friends up and take them to cooking lessons.
"For us, that was hitting on the mark as we never had food ... having kai made me feel like I was being taken care of because my stomach was taken care of so I didn't have to worry about stealing food."
The sisters introduced her to Te Hou Ora, or Te Ora Hou as it's now known - a national network of faith-based Māori youth and community development groups with a Northland base in Tikipunga.
This is where Poutai-Struginski's foray into helping youngsters began in her role as a junior leader.
However, she was still burdened by a scepticism that held her back until she reached her darkest hour.
"There was one time along my path where life took a change and I wanted to take my life," she said.
"I felt no one really cared for me, no one was really there for me."
While out one night, alone, grappling with the pull of suicide Poutai-Struginski received a phone call.
"It was one of the sisters and all she was doing was just dropping me a call to say 'Hey, how you going – I'm just ringing to say hi. How's your day?'
"I was like, 'Woah' ... I wasn't really keen to talk to her but she just kept going and said she was going to pick me up. It was just divine intervention, her ringing at the right time," Poutai-Struginski said.
"It was a real turning point, them being there for me even in all of the unexpected times."
It's a gift Poutai-Struginski wants to pass on to the struggling young people she encounters whether through work or out in the community.
"I don't know what every young person is thinking but I'll take every opportunity I can to be able to walk with them," she said.
Throughout her 21 years with the Northland police, the youth worker has co-ordinated Te Ora Hou programmes for women, girls, teen parents, high-risk youth male offenders, teens and kids lacking self-esteem, and more.
Poutai-Struginski was acknowledged as the driving force behind the Police Youth Development Programme, for families of young people who are offending or at risk of offending, at the latest Australasian Council of Women in Policing (ACWAP) Excellence in Policing Awards.
She received the Audrey Fagan Memorial Award, which recognises outstanding women who have shown exceptional qualities as mentors, role models and leaders in law enforcement.
"I'll do whatever is needed if it means it's going to make a change or a better outcome for the young people and families that I work with," she said.
"That's my passion and drive and what keeps me going. So many times our young people have been stripped of their mana, stripped of their voice, stripped of a lot of things.
"I believe we all need to make positive contributions to pull these weeds that have been choking them to start to bring about change, to let the sunshine in, and to empower them to change."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111