Hamish Falekaono: food for thought

Hamish is a care experienced young person now working as a Youth Worker at an Oranga Tamariki residence

Published on
19 Dec 2017
Hamish Falekaono

Early hardship affects behaviour

Nineteen year old Hamish knows how living in a home you don’t want to be at can affect you mentally and physically.

After his dad passed away when Hamish was nine, he started facing hardship at home. Without food and power, he believes his experiences led him to start acting out.

From the age of 14, Hamish had multiple stays in Palmerston North’s youth justice residence Te Au Rere a te Tonga. Each time he was out, he went into a different home. Unfortunately his experiences in care were not all positive, and he was separated from his siblings.

“At first I was moved to Auckland and the home I was placed in felt similar to where I’d come from; I didn’t feel safe or comfortable.”

A sense of hope

Hamish says each time he went into the youth justice residence it was a stepping stone to change.

“One staff member in particular, Mosese, helped me a lot. When he interacted with me I could see his cultural values coming through.” Before that, Hamish hadn’t experienced any connection to his Tongan culture.

On another occasion he spoke to a girl who said she wanted to be a social worker, which gave him a sense of hope. 

Hearing an ad for youth scholarships for free study at UCOL was another turning point. “I thought, I want to do that, so I asked to sign up.”

“When you set goals, you can already see hope.”

Finding independence

Around the same time he was completing Tertiary Study Skills courses at UCOL he was also exiting Oranga Tamariki care. “Going flatting was a bit different but I was used to moving around.”

When he and his partner had a son, he found it hard to get settled as a family surrounded by stereotypes. “No one wants to rent a house to people on benefits and whose wider family members are living in beaten up state houses.”

Hamish and his family did become settled eventually, and they reflect on the harder times often. “We always think about how we just had a mattress on the floor and a cot.”

Despite these challenges, Hamish kept moving forward. “Every time a barrier came up, I would try and find another way.”

When he was rejected from his application for a security license, he filed a response, and with support from his most recent caregiver, a social worker and Youth Space, he was able to obtain his licence.

After beginning work for Armourguard as security outside our Manawatū site, Hamish was supported to share his journey with other young people. In October this year he started work for Oranga Tamariki as a Youth Worker at the residence he had come to know not so long ago.

“I love working with young people. I can share with them my journey and hopefully they can see some sort of hope.”

A bright future

This month Hamish received a tertiary study scholarship at the 2017 William Wallace awards in Wellington. Enrolled in a social work degree next year, he is grateful for the therapeutic work he has done himself.

“I had some anger problems but being willing to accept therapy and talk about my emotions has really helped.” He now maintains a relationship with his mum, as well as his siblings, and visits his 13-year-old brother most days.

A dad to a now two-year-old boy, he says it’s easy to make good choices. “Knowing where I came from, I know what I don’t want my son to go through. When I give him a meal I’m happy he has food to eat. Just looking at his plate makes me happy.”