Regional | Awards

Tairāwhiti celebrates local heroes supporting community

Recipients at the 2024 Tairāwhiti Men of the Year awards are, from left, Mark Gray, Sam Aberahama, Shane "Shorty" Shortcliff, Pauli Ma'afu, Romano Tikotikoca, Johnnie Nikora, Albie Gibson and Te Kira Barbarich. Photo / Mariska Studios

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Men who support the community, love their whānau, share mātauranga Māori and who have overcome addiction were celebrated at this year’s Tairāwhiti Men of the Year awards.

The kaupapa was created by Tauawhi Men’s Centre in 2011 to celebrate men in the community doing good things and being great role models, to balance its work with men struggling with more negative behaviours.

Since 2010, the centre has worked to help men navigate life’s challenges, which can range from relationship difficulties to personal growth.

This year there were two awards named after Manny Kipa - one of the founders of Mauria Te Pono Trust, a kaupapa Māori-based alcohol and drug recovery group - who passed away last year after a battle with cancer.

Kipa had a profound impact on all those he helped and worked alongside. He was also one of the Tairāwhiti Men of the Year in 2022.

Shane “Shorty” Shortcliff (Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) and Mark Gray (Tuhoe, Te Aitanga a Hauiti) received Manny Kipa Memorial awards for how far both have come in their journey of recovery from alcohol and drugs and in helping others on their journeys.

Shorty said he never thought he would receive an award like this, but supporters in the crowd made it known he deserved it.

He spoke about how living in Auckland, he was often in and out of jail for methamphetamine offences, but one day while in jail decided to become clean.

He has been in recovery for nine years and when he moved to Gisborne three years ago, he started supporting men returning into the community from rehabs.

“I wouldn’t be here without everyone from Gisborne and my partner helping me and supporting me,” he said.

His friends and whānau sang a waiata after he spoke.

Mark Gray is the mātāmua (elder) within his whānau and the person who has taken the leap of faith and stepped into the unknown world of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

The change happened after he took himself to the police station and said he needed help. They pointed him in the right direction until he found what he needed.

He found Mauria Te Pono Trust, which for the past three years has helped him on his journey.

He now works there as one of the kaimahi helping whānau who are seeking, like he did, a change.

Gray uses his past life within the gang to help benefit whānau.

He was visibly emotional while getting the award but was supported by his mother-in-law, whānau and friends who supported his journey.

“I didn’t know what to say and I still don’t, but thank you, God,” he said.

He thanked those who are part of his journey, including four generations of his whanau who are now actively involved in Mauria Te Pono Trust.

After speaking, his supporters and whānau from Mauria Te Pono Trust performed a rousing haka that echoed through the Lawson Field Theatre.

Te Kira Barbarich was nominated by Sam “the Trap Man” Gibson and Eastern Whio Link for being a “true community man leading quietly through his actions and bringing a whole new generation of people along on the mahinga kai journey”.

Pauli Hifo Ma’afu was nominated by the Tongan community for his lifetime of service to his church and the community.

Ma’afu said it was a sad time for his whānau as his son-in-law Taina Sinoti was one of the three fishermen who died on a fishing trip off Mahia.

“The Men of the Year award was something to celebrate and bring happiness and a light in this time,” he said.

Albie Gibson was nominated by Hone Kewa Pewhairangi because, he said, Gibson was “someone who exemplifies what it is to be a man in this world”.

Johnnie Nikora was nominated by his family for always being a supportive and awesome husband, father and koro.

His wife Jane Nikora was also acknowledged by Tauawhi Men’s Centre as she was seen as part of the Tauawhi whānau.

Ron Taiapa was not available to come on the evening but was acknowledged and a celebration will be held for him at another time.

He was nominated by Robbie Wood who described Taiapa as an individual who, openly and selflessly, was a living representation of the ancestral practices and processes that have gone before him.

Romano Tikotikoca was nominated by Barnardos Tairāwhiti for the work he does in supporting the community and working in the suicide prevention space.

“Gisborne has a growing Fijian population and a man like Romano serves to lead in a positive and pro-social and caring manner, which is what leadership and role modelling should strive to emulate,” the Barnardos team said about him.

Alongside the awards each year, one person is named the Tauawhi Man of the Year. This year that honour went to former Tairāwhiti Police area commander Sam Aberahama.

Aberahama had earlier been the guest speaker for the evening, sharing his story of growing up in a violent home and how it inspired him to become a police officer.

He spoke about how when he came to Tairāwhiti, it opened his heart and mind to how to deal with family harm incidents.

“Being here in Tairāwhiti, I have felt the sense of community and aroha.”

Aberahama is in the process of moving home to his 89-year-old mother to help look after her in their family home in Hastings.

Te Hamua Shane Nikora was the master of ceremonies and shared jokes and korero that kept the audience entertained.

The evening ended with a supper where all the recipients, whānau and friends were able to mingle and get to know each other more.

Tauawhi Men’s Centre co-ordinator Tim Marshall said it was an awesome celebration of community and the positive contributions of the men who were nominated.

“Thanks to everyone who came along to support the evening.”

Matai O’Connor, Ngāti Porou, has been a journalist for five years and a Kaupapa Māori reporter at the Gisborne Herald for two years.

- NZ Herald


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