Karl is passionate about his work with Māori and Pacific young people in the Hawke’s Bay.
He’s worked as a mental health programme co-ordinator at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga for the past four years, leading the Like Minds, Like Mine project, Te Pae Mahutonga, in association with the Tu Ake Youth Academy.
He’s taken a unique approach to this mental health advocacy programme.
“Our aim is to increase our members’ sense of belonging and participation, so I encourage Academy members to integrate their indigenous knowledge with creative expression to tell their personal stories of mental distress,” he explains.
Karl is proud of how each young person uses a combination of music, art, photography, dance and video to share their journeys. Their current campaign, called ‘I Am’, is a series of video stories published on You Tube and promoted through Facebook.
He is careful to ensure the stories are delivered safely – for both the person sharing their experience of mental distress and the people who will be viewing it.
The ‘I Am’ campaign incorporates the familiar message of 'know me before you judge me', which not only echoes an early Like Minds, Like Mine advertising campaign, but also traditional Māori values with regards to storytelling.
Karl has observed first-hand how the young people’s stories of resilience resonate with everyone they engage with and stimulate discussions of awareness and destigmatisation.
“I am grateful for the time I get to spend with Academy youth. Their stories are a constant source of hope and reflect the strength of the human spirit,” he says.
“The diversity of the group – culture, socio-economic background and gender orientation – leads to a better understanding of one another and makes them excellent ambassadors to talk to other youth.”
He cites their trip to the 2016 Secondary School National Kapa Haka competition as an example: “We hosted a stall there and three or four of the 17-year-old boys talked about the Academy’s video club, mental distress and how to overcome it. Speaking out like this allows us to reach more people on a local and national platform.”
The project is not without its challenges. Often Karl has to balance the needs of the Academy with the needs of his organisation – and he says he underestimated how much effort it takes for the community to engage with them, but he is confident it is working.
“People understand the ‘know me before you judge me’ concept and message, so our work reinvigorates that space around awareness and is storytelling that really resonates with Māori and Pacific people.”
The group use social media so they can manage the messages and track the analytics to show the programme’s reach.
“A lot of people don’t understand the metrics behind Facebook and having that knowledge is one of our strengths for this project,” he says. “We also utilise video feedback from those inside and outside the project.”
This year the project will be aiming to reach politicians, large business owners, landlords and media with their messages.
Karl is already planning a stronger social media approach across multiple platforms to engage and measure the effectiveness of the programme. He remains focussed on creating a community where young people and other whānau can grow up without fear of mental health discrimination.
Ko Takitimu te waka
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te iwi
Ko Ngāi Te Rangikoianake te hapū
Ko Kahuranaki te maunga
Ko Ngaruroro rāua ko Tukituki ngā awa
Ko Poukawa te waiu
Ko Kahuranaki te marae
Ko Karl Wairama taku ingoa