Wilderness boot camp helping troubled kids

Going bush: Darcy Lukic, 15, and Anaru Wano, 16, at St Andrews Lodge, Castle Hill, on a youth leadership programme.
Going bush: Darcy Lukic, 15, and Anaru Wano, 16, at St Andrews Lodge, Castle Hill, on a youth leadership programme.

Darcy Lukic, 16, and Anaru Wano, 15, were followers. Today they are leaders. 

Born into extremely difficult family circumstances, they were heading down a road of drink, drugs, shoplifting and stealing cars by the time they were 12.

Sitting in the wilderness of the Canterbury high country against the dramatic backdrop of the Southern Alps, they speak about their lives with a level of honesty and self-understanding that far exceeds their age.

The friends are completing a Youth Life Skills advanced leadership course at Castle Hill, picked by its organisers to attend because of their potential despite not having completed the earlier training.

The week-long course teaches planning, organising, team-work and communication skills that will help them lead others along their own paths to becoming crime-free.

Their journey began three years ago when they were at the tangi of Anaru's brother. Rangi Wano died at just 16 in a horrific car smash. It was there that they met somebody who would turn their lives around.

Ricki Tan's small stature belies a deep commitment, determination and passion for his work with troubled youngsters.

As a registered psychologist, he has worked with hundreds of youth offenders over a period of 19 years.

"My job is not just my job. It's not my life, but it's a way of life for me," he says.

More recently, his attention has turned to the Canterbury Youth Development Programme (CYDP) being launched today.

The one-year programme targets 14 to 17-year-old medium to high-risk offenders, much like Anaru and Darcy used to be.

Part of the CYDP, Fresh Start Course is an eight-day adventure-based learning camp at Lake Sumner which will provide opportunity for the two friends to interact with other youngsters facing similar issues in their lives.

Tan says an integral part of CYDP is using peers to influence other youths' behaviour.

While some of Anaru's and Darcy's mates are still messing around with crime, they say they do what they can to tell them it's not cool.

"My main goal is to work on my friends first, and once I see the change in them, I know I have made an impact to work on other people," says Anaru. "If we can make one person change, how many other people can we change?"

Anaru says his biggest change is being able to hold his head high. His brother and sister had been into crime and, despite his parents attempts to control him, he had his "own will".

Police also tried their best, but none managed to get through until Tan entered the scene and invited the boys to start Thai-boxing training.

What started with exercise became a relationship of mutual trust and respect that Tan says is key when working with young people.

Says Anaru: "When he started working out with me, I just lost my brother because of crime and he was telling me things like, 'Bro, do you want to end up like your brother or make a good example of your family?'

"He put a lot of time into me. When I needed someone to talk to I would ring him up and he would come straight away and pick me up from wherever if I was in trouble."

Three years later, Anaru works full- time at vineyards and Darcy is in Year 11 at Papanui High School gaining NCEA credits at a steady rate.

Both are key members of the Youth Advisory Council, set up by CYDP to advise on youth matters.

The council also gives presentations to people working with youth offenders, a strange experience for the teenagers who suddenly find themselves faced with social workers and police for an entirely different reason.

Darcy calls Tan a "role model, leader, teacher, and trainer".

The 16-year-old says it took a while for him to realise crime is "not worth it", but with a brother already in jail and a father who has spent time in prison, his family is proud of him for making the change.

"It's had a big influence on my little brothers and sisters because I'm still at school and my older brothers and sisters all dropped out," he says.

"I hope to lead young guys like myself in the right direction, share with them how I done it, what I went through. Now, I'm a leader not a follower. I make my decisions on my behalf. People try to influence me, but I know when to say no."

Back in the central city, CYDP director Ross James sits in an office overlooking the Avon River. Use of the office was donated by the owners of the Bradley Nuttall building, an example of the community and business support the programme has generated.

From a military background, James led a team to develop the NZ Army's Youth Life Skills Cell (YLS) that has been running successfully at Burnham for nearly 10 years.

"CYDP is an amazing programme. For me, it's about working for the community and for the young people and providing something we believe in and know will work.

"The first course to be developed is the 52-week Fresh Start Course. It's a complete wrap-around model where you have the capacity not only to address the needs of the young person, but also to address those external things that affect the way the young person behaves."

Connecting with the young person's family, training providers and employers is crucial as one negative comment or action can really set people back, says James.

Module one is three weeks of adventure-based learning, life skills and motivational training based at Burnham Camp and Lake Sumner. Following this will be nine weeks of vocational and educational training, hopefully at a dedicated facility south of Christchurch.

"They will each get an individual development plan. We want to see what's good about the young person, what are the good skills that person has, and encourage and grow those skills," says James.

Module three is "intensive community-based support", provided by youth social workers, mentors and coaches aimed at getting the young person into education, job training or employment.

This support may extend to picking young people up and delivering them to work on time or simply making someone available anytime if they need to talk.

The first group of volunteer mentors are already training for their year-long commitment to helping a troubled young person make the change.

"It's not about being their friend or father or mother, but a mutually respecting relationship where they can work together and help that young person grow," says James.

For Tan, every person has hundreds of good qualities, it is just about seeking them out and giving them the opportunity to shine.

"Some have serious trauma loss and grief in their lives. That's not an excuse, but they do bleed like we do and do really hurt, and that hurt turns into other problems," he says.

"Some have extensive use of alcohol or drugs to manage their moods and ongoing use affects their judgment and functioning and behaviour.

"There's also antisocial beliefs and attitudes. These are learnt so it's about retraining someone in their thinking and learning; for example, 'people have insurance anyway so who cares'."

Tan cannot conceal his pride in Darcy and Anaru's achievements.

"I feel I have the team at CYDP that can support me and go out there believing in what we do," he says. "They are already demonstrating that if you encourage motivation and readiness in people, they will benefit, and give them the right resources you will get a positive outcome."

So what are Anaru and Darcy looking forward to?

"I just want to have a good life; to live a good life to the fullest," Darcy says.


* Offending rates in Canterbury are among the highest in New Zealand.

* Youth are responsible for 33 per cent of Canterbury offences and 78 per cent of dishonesty offences.

* 20% of youth require additional or complementary learning programmes beyond mainstream schooling to progress in society.

* The CYDP aims to eventually work with 200 to 400 youth a year on a variety of courses designed to meet the needs of the community.

* CYDP is a non-profit organisation which relies heavily on the generosity of Canterbury businesses, a number of Community Trusts, families and individuals.

* CYDP has evolved through close links and association with the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, the Salvation Army, Police, community groups and the NZ Army. 

The Press