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Positive Youth Development

Christchurch New Zealand is an interesting place to attend a conference on Positive Youth Development. And it’s more than an interesting place in the aftermath of the devastating earth quakes, to witness the many manifestations and symbols of the human spirit. Of any age. I went to Christchurch to attend a Hui. And as beaut as the conference was, I ended up experiencing a whole lot more.

Positive Youth Development is a phrase not really widely used in Australia’s field of youthwork, although if unfamiliar to any of us, it’s not difficult to intuit the term’s meaning. Amongst the many things presented at the Conference (Organised by The Collaborative for Research and Training in Youth Health and Development Research) was the Maori Model of Health: Te Whare Tapa Whā (Mason Durie). Or ‘The four corners of the house.’ This is a model I have long been familiar with, and although there are many models of wellbeing and health, and in fact also other Maori Models, Te Whare Tapa Whā has always taken my attention. The four cornerstones (or sides) of Māori health are whānau (family health), tinana (physical health), hinengaro (mental health) and wairua (spiritual health). There is something about the simultaneous simplicity and profundity of this model that is appealing. And one of the appealing aspects of this approach is the locating of people in relation to others, and to see people  as located in an ongoing process. To quote from the same site: ‘Health is related to unseen and unspoken energies. The spiritual essence of a person is their life force. This determines us as individuals and as a collective, who and what we are, where we have come from and where we are going.’

And this seemed particularly poignant at this time in Christchurch. Everywhere, side by side, is the evidence of heartbreak and hope, of a shattering and a recovering, of things lost and things sought.

Each chair for someone lost
Each chair for someone lost

 At the back of this space which is dedicated to the memory of those lost, is a small cubicle where you are invited to just rest a while. Although I must say I preferred to sit awhile on one of the many white-painted chairs. On one of the walls of that cubicle was this sign:

Words to help heal

Everywhere are the signs too of resolution. Amidst the ruins are constant demonstrations of optimism and hope. The ‘Allright?’ campaign which encourages people to ask after each other’s wellbeing, check to see how others are faring.

A campaign encouraging people to ask after each other...
A campaign encouraging people to ask after each other…


Houses hang off a cliff above a 'On this beautiful morning I feel so good' billboard
Houses hang off a cliff above a ‘On this beautiful morning I feel so good’ billboard

Positive Youth Development?  The wonderful concept of ‘Gap-fillers.’ Things like putting up four speakers in a now (once occupied) empty space, and along comes someone and plugs in a phone, and bingo…it’s dance time! Gap filled.

So when it comes to the notion of Positive Youth Development, or in the case of Christchurch at this moment in time, the reconstruction of a whole city and the positive development of all those within it, including its youth, the idea of a model based on whare, a house, seems more than apt.





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