Tūwhiti Happy teaching his Te Reo class at Te Whare Oranga ō Parakai.
If you happen to wander by Te Whare Oranga ō Parakai, the community centre next to Parakai Springs, on a Tuesday evening you might be treated to the sounds of a waiata from within.
A song, a prayer and some gentle exercises is the way the weekly Te Reo Māori course starts each Tuesday evening.
Leading from the front with a strong, melodic voice is course tutor Tūwhiti Happy. Happy by name, happy by nature, Tūwhiti is a jovial guy who is passionate about sharing his native language with others.
“Te Reo Māori belongs to all New Zealanders and it’s survival is in our hands,” he says.
The free course is run by Te Wananga Aotearoa in collaboration with Whiti Ora o Kaipara and has 25 enrolled students. Around two thirds of the class are pakeha, the other third are Maori, and about half of the class have had little or no exposure to te reo Māori .
Jonathon Lee from Kaukapakapa is here because of his three-year-old daughter. “I want to give her the taonga of te reo,” he says. He was fluent in the language up until the age of four, but his language skills became one of the casualties of his parents’ separation.
He’s inspired to learn more and says when he “goes back to my father’s area, slowly but surely active revival is what I’m trying to encourage.”
Fellow student Deana Walker has nothing but praise for tutor Tūwhiti. “He’s the reason we enjoy it so much. We’re learning through fun and games and are never made to feel that we can’t do it.”
The course lasts 36 weeks, and by the end of it the students will be able to use basic te reo Māori at home with their kids or in the workplace.
Tūwhiti Happy puts the success of the class down to the tight-knit, welcoming group of students. He says, “my job is to create a safe environment that encourages them to engage with our language, and to make mistakes in class rather than out in the real world.
The course is one of the most popular classes at Te Whare Oranga ō Parakai and it’s hoped the success of it will see further classes scheduled in coming years.