Tracey Waitokia and Des Canterbury were a little "whakama" (bashful) about their nomination for a Pride of New Zealand community spirit award.

"We don't really see what we do as anything exceptional - we share unconditional love with our children and mokopuna and that extends to wider whanau and community," said Des.

The couple lead busy professional lives - Tracey works for Te Hau Ranga Ora Maori Health Services, a division of Whanganui District Health Board, and Des has just been appointed to lead a new programme for Maori men at the Whanganui Living Without Violence Trust.

Tracey previously taught information technology at Wanganui Girls College before transferring to Te Oranganui Iwi Health Board as their IT manager, and Des has worked in mental health for a number of years and was most recently a counsellor with Te Oranganui.

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He has represented the Maori Nurses Council Union and organised indigenous nursing conferences nationally and internationally. "I sort of stumbled into that role when I worked at Lake Alice Hospital and the nurse who had been in that role was leaving and she asked me to go to a meeting with her - it was great experience and I learned very valuable negotiation skills."

They couple may have really busy work lives but it is their unpaid work in the community that has earned them a Pride of New Zealand nomination.

Des and Tracey have worked with different iwi and hapu in the region, assisting with Treaty claims and lending support and catering at land hui, celebrations and tangi.

Tracey from Wanganui and Des from Patea were teenage sweethearts who became teenage parents and Des said they had to grow up in a hurry and work hard.

"We both come from households where there was alcohol and violence and we had to learn to do things differently ... we worked some tough jobs - we have been commercial cleaners and I did scrub cutting and a stint at the freezing works."

Des has also survived cancer and said it changed his outlook on life and gave him new appreciation of how precious it is.

"We are at a good place in our lives now, we have a great daughter and son and four lovely mokopuna with another one on the way and we are still young enough to enjoy all of it."