28 September 2022

Making real connections through the Māori Pathways Programme at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison

When Harmen Bakkerus was considering a career change four years ago, he was searching for a role that provided a strong connection to people.

Working as a Corrections Officer/ Āpiha Whare Herehere at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison on the Māori Pathways Programme (Tenei Au, Tenei Au) he’s found that connection.

“That was something I was missing in my previous career… and I found it here on the Māori Pathways Programme. It’s been absolutely amazing to have that connection and to get to know people from all walks of life.”

Te Matau-a-Māui (Hawke’s Bay) is one of three regions in Aotearoa (New Zealand) that are trialling the Māori Pathways Programme – an initiative that supports the corrections system to be more effective by using kaupapa Māori and whānau-centred approaches. The programme is co-designed with whānau, iwi, and hapū Māori.

Harmen says that his role involves working with the men to learn together, heal from the past and address the root causes of people’s offending. One of the things that he enjoys the most is the fact that he gets to learn alongside the men, as it means they can all support each other.

“I'm not sitting outside the wings. I'm with them as much as possible, learning my whakapapa.

“When I first started, a lot of them thought, what is the white guy doing in the Māori class? And the more I worked at it and the more that I showed them that I'm serious and sincere in helping them and learning with them, the more respect and the more understanding I got from them.

The men teach me. When I mispronounce something, when I don't understand a phrase, the men slow down for me and help me with my pronunciation.”

As well as providing rehabilitation and cultural connection within the prison, Harmen highlights that another important aspect of the programme is the focus that it has on reintegration – ensuring men have the support to lead fulfilling lives when they leave prison.

“In the Kaupapa Māori Pathway, we're not just helping you in prison. We're going to help you outside of prison, giving you all the tools that we can… The last thing that we want to see is people coming back in.”

Harmen says that, after four years at Ara Poutama Aotearoa, he considers it “one of the best working environments that I have been in in a long time.”

“It's been amazing working at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison… the management team, the Māori Pathways Programme team, they all go above and beyond to make sure that everybody is looked after.

Like every job there's ups and downs, but this place has encouraged me to be stronger in my faith, to be stronger in my relationship building…

I feel enabled to not just say ‘I want to treat people the way I want be treated’ but to really do that.

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