Five new Youth Leaders appointed

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has appointed five new members to its UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders group. They are [listed in alphabetical order]: Liletina Vaka, Māia Tapsell, Morgan King, Nick Mailau and Shahin Najak.

Raven Maeder is the group’s new Chair, taking over from Danielle Newton. As Special Advisor – Youth she will attend all National Commission meetings and provide advice to the National Commission on how to engage young people in UNESCO’s work programmes.

Liletina Vaka

Liletina (25) has a strong background in designing, delivering and evaluating community development programmes that support and empower rangatahi and their whānau. She has collaborated with rangatahi Māori to produce research for the United Nations Association of New Zealand, presented to conference audiences on youth-related issues, and implemented youth mentoring programmes across university, high school and NGO spaces. Although her background is in policy, her passion sits with community development at an operations level. Finding opportunities for rangatahi aged 16-17 years old in West Auckland is now her full-time mahi. In addition to always being on the hunt for development opportunities for our young people (and therefore their whānau and wider community) Liletina spends her time working alongside rangatahi in various capacities.

“At the heart of all my mahi sits a passion to empower and support rangatahi, their whānau and the communities they belong to! My previous roles in community development demonstrate a high level of practitioner skills and knowledge as a youth worker, while my academic history and former analyst positions bring technical skills and research-based knowledge. These attributes, combined with my life experiences as a Māori (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tahu), Tongan (Fua’amotu) young woman in Aotearoa, place me with the privileged responsibility to meaningfully partner with the communities I not only work with, but belong to.”

Māia Tapsell

Māia (24) is studying towards a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) at the University of Otago and is undertaking Te Rōnakitanga, a reo immersion course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. She has previously completed a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDipsci) with Distinction in Pharmacology and a Bachelor of Science majoring in Pharmacology and minoring in Māori. In 2018 she received a scholarship from the Health Research Council to conduct research into indigenous oral health providers and initiatives, and investigate what methods could be used in Aotearoa to improve Māori oral health outcomes. This is now in its final stages for publication. In 2018 she also received the Te Apa Māreikura award from the Ministry of Health for her contribution and leadership in Māori health, strong connections and involvement within her community and academic excellence.

In 2016 Māia received a summer studentship from the Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit to work as an assistant researcher. Other awards she has received include the Māori Education Trust scholarship for Leadership, the Te Arawa 500 scholarship and the University of Otago Māori and Pacific Islander Entrance Scholarship. She has been part of the tuakana-teina mentorship programme at university and on the Te Hokai committee for Te roopū Māori.

“I am whole-heartedly committed to reducing inequities within Aotearoa and since moving to Ōtepoti I have tailored everything I do and everything I study toward being able to elicit change in this area. As a member of the UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leadership group, I will bring a voice and perspective from a woman in science, in research, in health, but more importantly from a wāhine Māori; an indigenous voice.”

Morgan King

Morgan (19) has a strong cultural background, with roots deep in the heart of the North Island. He is currently studying Music and Biomedical Science at Victoria University of Wellington. He aims to gain the knowledge and skills from these degrees to help build a strong relationship between Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākeha. Morgan also wants to support and give back to his communities so that future generations are able to do the same. Morgan has a broad knowledge of Te Ao Māori. Previous mahi has included education and advisory positions and leadership roles as a workshop facilitator. This year he has been working as an intern at the Environmental Protection Agency. By contributing to UNESCO, he hopes that he can truly make a difference for all in the world and for those to come.

“I always find myself going back to my communities, not just as a sense of home but also the desire to give back to those who have supported me. The world is changing so fast that it is crucial to make a difference that is beneficial for all. Not just for Te Ao Māori, not just for Pākeha but for all. So, it is imperative that as youth we lead by example, that future generations are able to follow our example to make the world a better place.”

Nick Mailau

Nick (23) is a proud Tongan and New Zealander. He is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Education at AUT, majoring in Primary Teaching. Last year he undertook a Policy Internship at the Ministry of Education as a part of the Tupu Tai Internship programme. He has coached basketball and has been a special needs teacher-aide for a number of years. Nick has also volunteered in Cambodia for ADRA New Zealand, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

“I am very passionate about working towards a fair and equitable education system for New Zealand students, but particularly for Māori, Pasifika, and students with disabilities. I’m extremely excited to be a part of the UNESCO Youth Leaders programme, and count myself fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring and hard-working young people from across the country!”

Shahin Najak

Shahin (19) is a student at the University of Auckland, currently studying a conjoint degree of science and commerce. In science, she is pursuing a double major in biological sciences and environmental science. Her commerce major is economics. She is aiming to enter the field of environmental microbiology.

Shahin has taken on various leadership positions, beginning with the Sir Peter Blake Trust in 2015 as a young enviro-leader. In 2016 she travelled to the Auckland Islands in the Sub Antarctic with the Sir Peter Blake Trust and the Royal New Zealand Navy, working with a team of scientists to conduct fundamental research for Blake Station. She was one of only 14 young adults to be chosen to complete this expedition and the youngest at the age of 16. Since then she has been working closely with Auckland Council to improve the Auckland region, focusing on New Zealand Mistletoe restoration and numerous beach clean ups at Manakau Domain. She also volunteers regularly with Auckland City mission to help alleviate the growing poverty rate in New Zealand. Shahin is a Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim and helps co-ordinate outreach events throughout Auckland to give back to the community through key areas of development.

“I am honoured to be given this opportunity to be a voice for New Zealand youth alongside UNESCO. I am passionate about the environment and civil rights as well as fostering relationships between different communities with aligned goals. I look forward to working with UNESCO and other incredible young leaders.”