Veteran youth worker never gives up
3 January 2011
Kurariki, who was just 12 when he and five older youths killed pizza deliverer Michael Choy in 2001, came to Mr Paea's 274 Youth Core while he was living in Otara before he was jailed again in November for exposing himself to two female journalists.
"I said, 'Man, you're famous! Use that fame for the positive rather than the negative,"' Mr Paea says.
"Just in the little short time I knew him, he began to open up. I'm not going to give up. He's going to come back again."
Mr Paea, who has been working with South Auckland young people for more than 30 years, has some justification for his optimism. Youth gang activity has reduced noticeably since 2005, when a spike in gang-related killings culminated in a brawl in Mangere's Aorere Park and the revenge murder of the father of a youth involved in it.
"During that time in 2005 it was definitely a gang problem," Mr Paea says. "Prior to that, I was warning that we had problems, but nobody seemed to listen.
They were a new breed of youth gangs. They were ruthless."
When the killings hit front pages, the Government finally got the message.
The 2006 Budget gave $10 million for a four-year programme that funded eight youth workers in Otara, 14 others across the rest of South Auckland, plus extra social workers, three new houses for young people picked up on the streets, and other measures.
The youth-worker contracts have just been extended for two years with a reshuffling of resources to take in a wider area from Papakura in the south to Ranui in the west.
The new areas have been funded by a slight cut in resources for Otahuhu, Papatoetoe and Otara, where problems are judged to be diminishing.
"The gang issue has definitely gone, but you still have kids who have so much time on their hands, so much energy that needs to be expelled," Mr Paea says.
His 274 Youth Core, named after the first three digits of Otara phone numbers, has tried to give this energy a constructive outlet by running sports events in Otara parks after school and through the school holidays.
Former Olympic athlete Sir John Walker's Finding Your Field of Dreams Foundation has funded similar events called AMP'd in parks in Otara, Mangere, Papatoetoe and Manurewa/Clendon since March 2009.
The 274 group also runs a gym and a dance academy that houses hip-hop champions Dziah and the championship organisers, Street Dance NZ.
The group is now shifting its emphasis to longer-term projects to help young people gain work-related skills and actually set up small businesses.
Mr Paea's Crosspower Ministries runs a building course that makes planter boxes for sale and a motorcycle-maintenance course that may also become a business.
Several youths who have been through the courses have gone on to Manukau Institute of Technology or into apprenticeships.
Mr Paea plans to start recruiting for the courses in the jails where young offenders such as Kurariki end up.
"A lot of the guys that come out of jail - unless you have contacts you're not going to get a job," he says. "So the only way for them is for us to bring them here and go through a process of developing cottage industries, small businesses. We can work on their behaviours and help them to get a job."
Otara Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator Poutoa Papali'i, an Otara resident for 49 years, says many local groups have worked together with the police and Maori and Pacific wardens to reduce gang influence.
Police have used some of their 300 extra staff in South Auckland to establish neighbourhood policing teams which aim for maximum visibility in defined high-crime pockets until crime rates drop. Two teams started in Otara late last year and a third will start in Flat Bush next month.
"Ten years ago, just talking to people, youth violence and gangs were always a subject matter," Mr Papali'i says. "It hardly figures in people's conversations these days."
Mihi Toki of Otara Wardens says she hasn't heard of gang activity in the local parks for some time.
Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board member Mary Gush, who manages the Te Puke Otara community centre, says she doesn't think twice about walking around the neighbourhood.
The community centre is already used for 274 zumba classes and plans to make itself a one-stop shop centre for a range of youth services including healthcare. She says youth gangs are barely seen.
"We are certainly not confronted with it every day ... It's peaceful as at the moment."