Wairua of Orongomai Marae indescribable

Whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue that which is precious, and do not be deterred by anything less than a lofty mountain.

Orongomai ‘s administration officer, Cameron Kapua-Morrell (right) feels this whakataukī says heaps about the marae’s culture.

“The wairua of this marae is indescribable.  It’s supportive and encouraging and you feel the love flowing through everything.”

It also says a lot about the optimism and courage of this 20-year-old gay man who left a small East Coast village four years ago to live with his grandparents in the busy, multicultural urban environment of Stokes Valley.

Finding a place of acceptance

Small town Aotearoa isn’t always an easy place for a gay rangatahi, especially when some whānau fail to understand that his sexual orientation is part of who he is.

“I’ve learnt the importance of surrounding myself with open-minded people.”

The high school Cameron attended after shifting to the Hutt Valley wasn’t much fun either.

“I didn’t enjoy the environment there.  There’s nothing in the high school curriculum to teach LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people about their culture.”

It wasn’t until he enrolled, through Orongomai Marae in Te Ara Whakapakari, the National Certificate in Employment Skills course, that he was able to “come out of the shell” he felt he’d been in for years. Making such a significant transition within a Māori kaupapa was very important to him.

“It’s not easy to retain that sense of yourself as a Māori in an urban environment.  Without having a place like Orongomai where I can practice my Māoritanga I think I could lose it, and that’s the last thing I want to do.”

Support for rangatahi

Cameron has now completed a Certificate in in bi-cultural social work.  In addition to his administration duties, he is also responsible for the LGBT aspect of a regional rangatahi suicide prevention initiative of which Orongomai is part.  He helps local LGBT rangatahi access available services and encourages them to be proud of who they are.

“It’s still difficult for LGBT rangatahi to come out because a lot of people in Māori communities just don’t want to talk about it.  So I see my role as empowering LGBT rangatahi and supporting them to really understand that it’s ok to be the way you are and there is always a place for everyone in our world.  It’s a matter of finding that place and becoming comfortable within yourself.”