Social Worker , Youth Services
Aroha Nuku knows how to take a tackle and it is perhaps her training on the rugby pitch which has helped prepare her for a job at Youth Service (YS) in South Taranaki. The Manawatu Cyclones flanker joined the YS team in Hawera in October and is working with young people across South Taranaki.
Aroha grew up with her mum and her sisters in Opunake. After school she enrolled in a social work degree at Massey University. She graduated this year and after a stint working at the Highbury Whānau Centre, an alternative education centre in Palmerston North, she jumped at the chance to continue working with young people closer to home.
Aroha feels a strong affinity to the young people she is trying to help.
“I wasn’t a great young person myself. It’s hard to be young. Things have changed a lot, even since I was at school.”
Aroha, who recently turned 26, describes how when she was 16 having access to the internet was still a relatively new thing. For today’s youth having the WIFI cut off at home is a major drama.
“Abuse and bullying through social media is pretty common. If you already have low self-esteem this is just another way to bring you down.”
At the other end of the spectrum Aroha has clients who already have criminal convictions, some are suffering from depression and anxiety, and some have urgent needs that need to be filled.
“I’ve got clients who don’t have enough to eat, so you need to go with them to the food bank. Some don’t have a safe place to stay so we put them in touch with people who can help."
“I find it really sad that some of the young people I meet don’t have any strong role models outside of the services. There is no one at home to fill that gap.”
Outside of work sport has always been a big love for Aroha. She played high school rugby for Taranaki and the Hurricanes before making it into the Manawatu Cyclones at university.
A horrific injury in the final game of the 2013 season, in which Aroha broke both her leg and ankle, stalled her rugby career for several months. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time as she had just been named in the Black Ferns training squad for the 2014 World Cup.
Three years on Aroha is back on the pitch, representing Taranaki this year in rugby Sevens. The team recently competed in the regional finals losing out only to the competition’s two top teams: Manawatu and Wellington. Their strong performance earned them the right to compete at the nationals in Rotorua in January.
Aroha also plays touch and basketball and goes to the gym to relax. For now, she is taking a well-earned break from the Cyclones and channeling her energy into her clients.
“It’s about helping them make good decisions for themselves, and for their future. When they do, they feel good and so do you. It’s pretty cool really.”