By day Tania Lewis-Rickard is a teacher at Papamoa College, where she not only teaches art - she lives, breathes it and makes it.

"This is called I get to choose," she said while adding white paint to one of her distinctive Māori artworks. "It pays homage to homeless women in Tauranga.

"It's all about struggle, identity, celebration as women, that why we have these big feet. It's about her feet.

Tania Lewis-Rickard paints 'I get to choose'. Photo / Shilo Kino.
Tania Lewis-Rickard paints 'I get to choose'. Photo / Shilo Kino.

"Even though there are times when a wahine woman goes off track, who doesn't? It's about her journey."

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But every Friday night Tania devotes her time to a very different cause, as founder of Kai Aroha, a voluntary organisation feeding Tauranga's homeless community.

"There were times I wanted to give up, with my family and job. I have to departmentalise when I come to work. I have my students to think about, my family, but I'm mindful all the time for our city's vulnerable people."

Tania Lewis-Rickard is an artist, teacher, mother, founder of Kai Aroha and co-founder of Awhina House. Photo / Shilo Kino
Tania Lewis-Rickard is an artist, teacher, mother, founder of Kai Aroha and co-founder of Awhina House. Photo / Shilo Kino

Kai Aroha was born after Tania decided she could no longer be a bystander to the growing problem of homelessness.

"My family and I, we wanted to help people. We know what it's like to struggle and be in poverty. I always talk about the one tablespoon of mince story my mum gave to us as a child.

"She did her best to look after us, she went without dinner that particular night and it was a tablespoon of mince and a bit of mashed potatoes. We really appreciated it.

"I can still taste the taste of appreciation in my mouth because of what my mum had done for us."

Kai Aroha feeds the homeless every Friday night. Photo / Shilo Kino.
Kai Aroha feeds the homeless every Friday night. Photo / Shilo Kino.

So when Tania heard about the council toughening up on rough sleeping and begging, she knew she had to do something.

"There was a bubbling brook in my puku. I prayed and asked the Lord, what do you need Kai Aroha to do? And then the hikoi came to mind."

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She organised "Hikoi for the Homeless" last June, where she met other passionate wahine. They began working together and recently opened Tauranga's first women's shelter - Awhina House.

"My husband, my children, my school, Papamoa College - they're so supportive. The kids are awesome, it's inspiring for them to show citizenship and to want to help those who are less fortunate."

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