Giving a new lease on life

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 09/04/2013
tdn lani stand
ANDY JACKSON
Lani Hunt teaching the Mau Rakau at Puke Ariki landing in New Plymouth

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Three ardent New Plymouth people have joined forces to convert drug and alcohol addicts into useful members of society.

Registered under the Drug Free Aotearoa flag, the three volunteers, Lani Hunt, Michelle Burnside and Darren Hulton, have taken on 62 youths - and not a few adults - since mid-January.

Based at the city's Metro Plaza the participants, who must be drug free to get through the door, are taught life skills and assisted to change their lifestyle.

The cultural element to the programme is strongly linked to Parihaka.

Some are walking in the door after hearing success stories while in other cases, the youth are being tapped on the shoulder and asked to attend.

Ms Burnside said Mr Hunt, who has been heralded as a star graduate of Waves, the city's now defunct one-stop youth health service, had an extraordinary ability to spot distressed people wanting to make a change in their lives.

"They have just been walking off the street saying I want a job and I want to do better in life.

"If they had jobs they would fall over themselves to get back and contribute to society."

The team put their new-found passion to good purpose yesterday when they spent a couple of hours cleaning up the rubbish around Puke Ariki and the foreshore.

Mr Hunt said he was finding many of the youth were suffering serious addiction problems after using artificial cannabis, such as Not Pot, on a daily basis.

"It's a big thing in their lives. It's harder to come off than cannabis."

It was a requirement to be drug free while on the programme and he said most were managing to do so.

Learning about Maoritanga was often life-changing for them.

"I love it when they have a spark in their eyes."

Reuben Moeahu, 43, told how his life has turned around through the programme.

"I'm off medication and I'm drug and alcohol free. This is so amazing.

"I feel like the light's come on in my mind. I wish I learnt the life skills at school but it's never too late."

An independent drug and alcohol counsellor, Mr Hulton worked as the Te Ihi Tu Trust group facilitator and with Like Minds and Mahia Mai.

The days of the three working for nothing should soon be over.

They are in the middle of applying for charitable trust status through the Charities Commission and will then apply for funding.

The public can take advantage of a five-week course of free lectures on Wednesday and Saturday at 10am, Ms Burnside said.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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