Once 'crazy' teenager shares good advice

BIG DREAMS: Uilisone Laufili-Tigafua has a bright future after overcoming challenges in his life.
BIG DREAMS: Uilisone Laufili-Tigafua has a bright future after overcoming challenges in his life.

Uilisone Laufili-Tigafua has turned his life around in just two years.

When the Mt Wellington 16-year-old started secondary school he fell in with the wrong crowd.

At just 13 he was drinking, smoking, falling behind in class and getting into trouble.

But the troubled teen decided to pull his socks up at the end of 2011 and it was the best choice he has ever made, he says.

He is taking part in the Prime Minister's Youth Programme this week.

The programme was set up to celebrate the achievement of teenagers aged 14 to 17 dealing with challenges in their lives.

Uilisone says his behaviour as a young teen was "crazy". The wake-up call came when he started failing classes he originally thought were easy.

"I really let my parents down. I was going through a rough phase in my life and didn't deal with it in the right way.

"I say to others in that same situation, just talk to somebody - but not someone that can't help. What I did was hang around with the wrong crowd and they gave me bad advice about my problems, like ‘go for another drink bro'. It didn't help."

Uilisone is now on the prefect team and is in academic classes for all of his school subjects.

To get there he had to prove to his teachers and his parents that he could be trusted. He wanted them to see he had leadership potential, he says.

And it's a lesson he wants to pass on.

"I always tell my little cousins all you need to do well at school is two things: pay attention and never underestimate your abilities."

He was nominated for the programme by St Pauls College's deputy principal while he was completing a Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Award last year.

Applicants have to write about why they decided to change and how it has impacted their lives, he says.

Uilisone hopes to go to Auckland University next year, possibly to study mechanical engineering.

"I used to dream of being in the navy or the army because it was all I thought I could do. Now my school has helped me through my time of being naughty and I have got so many more options."

The programme includes confidence-building activities like white water rafting and seminars from high-achieving New Zealanders.

Go to myd.govt.nz for more information.

East And Bays Courier