A future in Taumarunui offered little in the way of work for 20-year-old Chorone Takoa and less in the way of self-belief.
After leaving school with few qualifications he had trouble even looking people in the eye.
But now, in a revival of a scheme that saw an earlier generation of young Maori leave for work and gain a place in the world, Mr Takoa and three other trade training graduates are creating history by heading to Christchurch in the next few days to help rebuild the shattered city.
The achievement is significant for Taumarunui, which has little in the way of youth employment schemes, a high level of unemployment - particularly among Maori, and little in the way of local job prospects.
The graduates, ranging between 16 and 23, last week completed 14 months' training to gain their Level 4 Certificate in carpentry pre-trades apprenticeship with Hinengakau Development Trust in Taumarunui.
The small group follow in the footsteps of an earlier generation of Maori teens who left Taumarunui for Christchurch and other centres, under the Maori Trades Training Scheme nearly 40 years ago.
Christchurch graduates of the scheme, which ran between the 1960s and mid 1980s, revived Te Kaihanga Co-operative Training Centre in Christchurch following the devastating earthquakes a year ago - nearly 30 years after the government closed the scheme in 1985.
The trust will host the young builders when they head the Christchurch over the next few weeks.
Graham "Tinka" Bell, who, along with Taumarunui trades tutor Monty Te Ahuru, was a graduate of the original scheme, said the group's journey was "a mirror of what happened to us".
"I see these young fellas as our leaders of the future - they are only young but they are on the right path; they are determined to get out of Taumarunui for the right reasons and we are proud of them."
UCOL trade tutor Steve Wharehinga said he had seen a transformation in the young men graduating.
When he first met them last year, "those young boys really struggled with looking at me - and look at them now, they are young men now - it's just fantastic".
Mr Takoa said there was little future in staying in Taumarunui without qualifications.
"This means a whole big deal to me, coming from lil ol' Taumarunui where there is nothing for young ones. To have an opportunity like this, to contribute to Christchurch's revival and get into the building trade is just awesome."
Chorone said the programme offered hope for youth who were closely aligned with gangs in Taumarunui.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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