From pēpē to kaumātua, from men wearing ankle bracelets and gang tattoos to community leaders wearing pounamu and tā moko tattoos, the pōhiri to begin the Pūwhakamua course at Apūmoana Marae brought together all walks of life.
At midday on Saturday about 50 people gathered to mark the start of the six-month programme led by Rotorua man Billy Macfarlane.
He turned his life around while serving a 14-year prison sentence for bankrolling a major methamphetamine ring. "The first thing I noticed about the courses in prisons and probation is that they are too short. If someone has been offending for decades, you cannot change their mindset in four days or four weeks. The longest course I could find was eight weeks. They are much too short."
Macfarlane's course will be followed by a further six months of checks to ensure the eight participants are staying crime-free.
It has been supported and shaped by police, parts of the judiciary, kaumātua, local lawyers and community leaders.
Macfarlane said the participants would delve deeper than practising waiata and haka and the course would focus on values.
"Tika, in tikanga, it means to do the right thing. On the marae it is not okay to be violent, it is not okay to steal, and what you cannot do here, you should not do out there over the fence.
"We are about looking after people and fostering love and kindness, and we are doing this in an atmosphere where people can feel supported, under the guidance of kaumātua. Not just talking about it either, doing it. "
Macfarlane said such a course would have changed the path of his life at an earlier stage.
"There are men and women still struggling in prison in dark places. They need support like this now while they are in there, and opportunity to change and deeply understand their tikanga culture."
He acknowledged there was an obvious divide between the offenders and non-offenders "but the common factor is that we are all people".
"We have a system of funding punishment in prisons, rather than fixing the problems.
"Instead of kicking a kid out of home, you can help them solve the problems behind their behaviour.
"In my eyes, prison is an 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' approach and at the top of the cliff we have very little."
Macfarlane was self-funding the course and has received some community money, but not enough to reach the estimated $42,000 to run the course.
To help raise money, Macfarlane has started a Givealittle page and hosted a public talk on Saturday night to tell his story.
"A story of a young man who grew up in Owhata and was imprisoned at a very young age.
"A story of drugs, violence, prison riots, escapes and high-speed police chases... A story of a man from Rotorua who has lived most of his life in the underworld but eventually found solace and guidance inside his culture."
What Puwhakamua entails:
• 75 hours in tikanga wananga
• 100 hours in te reo classes
• 35 hours community service
• 25 hours learning formal Maori speaking (whaikorero)
• At least 30 hours engaged in group fitness activities
* 60% of participants will stop offending for at least one year following the programme
* 50% of participants will be regularly involved in community activities for at least one year from the stare
* 50% of participants will gain either fulltime employment or enter studies within three months of completion
* All participants will attend follow up sessions for six months after completion
How to donate: