Giving Back

I first met Alarna Matau while doing a street survey on K- Road. She spoke with such passion about what she was doing that I wanted to hear more.

A few weeks later I am sitting down with Alarna and colleague Liam. They tell me about their dreams and the journey that led them to their place of passion – the performing arts and a creative arts therapy programme they run voluntarily for at-risk youth.

Alarna has a degree in performing arts and Liam is in his final year of study. Alarna tells of a childhood passion for singing and performing and the lack of opportunity which saw her life take a very different direction.

Fast forward to age thirty when she took a huge step, moving herself and her three children from Christchurch to Auckland to start a new life. After a ‘settling in’ year, Alarna applied to do a performing arts degree at UNITEC -  along with four hundred others.  She was one of twenty chosen.

 ‘At first I had to have support to up-skill my writing so I could write essays,’ she tells me, adding that this was just one of the challenges. ‘The course makes you go deep into yourself.  I learned who I am and what I’m capable of. It was really tough but I was driven.’

It was while job-hunting after completing her degree that Alarna recognised she was at risk of losing her craft. ‘An artist has to keep their craft alive,’ she says. ‘I was on a work course when I realised I wanted to keep doing performing art but also wanted to help people. It seemed the natural thing to do – I wanted to give back.’

Alarna sat down and designed a course based around the techniques that had helped her so much.

Liam, currently in his final year of study, says he was waiting for a door to open when a friend introduced him to Alarna. Having discovered a huge passion for hip hop in his last year at college, and inspired by Parris Goebel, he studies performing arts. The pair had an immediate connection. ‘We bounce off each other,’ they agree.  They took their proposal to Tagata Pacifica alternative school at Samoa House and so began a partnership in giving back.

Nearing the end of the first ten week course I ask them how it’s going.

‘Really well. The students were really insecure and closed off at first. They’d never done anything like this.  It’s a step by step process but it’s been amazing to see them challenge their vulnerability, break down their insecurities and to see character and confidence slowly building. We told them at the start it was their choice, they didn’t have to be there but they kept coming back and they’re totally different people to those who started.’

It seems Alarna and Liam’s ‘giving back’ is providing something these young people need.

Having followed their dreams this far I ask each of them about their dreams for the future.

Alarna says she’d love to refine the programme and eventually take it to other education providers and ultimately into women’s prisons; and then there’s a deep calling to write a feature film.

Liam dreams of teaching hip hop and producing a short dance film with spoken word.

With the passion that’s got them this far nothing seems impossible for these two artists.