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Jenza Talk / New Zealand

How one pilot program is putting First Nations young people at the forefront of work and travel

JENZA x Go International’s pilot work exchange program. And why we need to make work abroad opportunities more accessible for Indigenous communities.

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It’s an abnormally hot day in Melbourne, I’ve just finished my smoothie bowl, my cat Pickle is insisting on sitting on my lap despite the temperature, and I’m about to jump on a call with Sharyn – our Australia and New Zealand Divisional Manager to talk about JENZA's pilot Indigenous Youth Exchange program.

To be clear, Sharyn is a force to be reckoned with. And when it comes to her passion and knowledge for the Māori heritage and culture in her home country of New Zealand, she’s unwavering in using that force for good. I’ve personally had the joy of learning more about New Zealand culture through her. So it comes as no surprise that, along with the team at Go International, she’s driving this exciting work exchange initiative between young people from First Nations communities in Canada and Māori communities in New Zealand.

How did the idea for the Canada and New Zealand Indigenous Youth Pilot program come about?

It’s something I’ve been trying to do for years really. I used to work for a Māori boys boarding school, and it was a really big thing to send students from that school overseas. Some of them came from families where they were the first ones in their family to finish high school and none of them had been overseas before, and we worked with a travel agent to offer fully-funded scholarships.

One of the students from that school won the national scholarship and they announced it at the school assembly which led to the whole school getting up and doing the Haka – which was pretty powerful. From that point onwards, people would come up to me in the town and say, “Oh you’re the person that sends people overseas” and they got the idea that they could do that too.

We did in-person pre-departure briefings and they would bring the wider extended family as there were often so many people involved in helping them get away. There were aunties, uncles, grandmas - it was a real group effort. And they often needed more support both in-country and before going away.

I then spoke to the Principal of the School and said, how cool would it be to host people, particularly young First Nations people from Canada, in New Zealand because you could see the impact it had had on young Māori people going overseas and to be able to share some of the benefits. New Zealand is not perfect, but we do feel that preserving Māori culture and integrating it in society and working in partnership with Māori to offer opportunities when they haven’t traditionally had them is important. And that young Canadians might be able to learn something by coming here. That was the concept. But then Covid hit, and it never took off the ground.

When I started working for JENZA, our CEO, Vicki, believed in the impact it could have. So we picked it up with Go International and off it went.

Can you explain what the program is?

It's the chance for 18-25-year-olds from First Nation communities in Canada to come over to work and travel in New Zealand. Initially, it's a 12-week supported program, with an arrival orientation and four-week work placement. They can earn a bit of money in that period, so they don’t have to save up as much before they come away. After the 12 weeks, we can support them to stay and do a normal working holiday if they choose to.

The rest of the 12-week experience has a large cultural focus. We’ll be working with some of the local Iwi, which is the Māori word for tribes, who run tourist organisations themselves up on the North Island. Here they’ll see how authentic tourist operators integrate and celebrate Māori culture. We’ve also got the opportunity for them to experience bi-lingual or Māori language schools, from pre-school right up to high school. We’ll be setting up a Youth Forum with young Māori and First Nations participants hosted by one of the local Iwi’s - so that they can connect, share stories and talk about the similarities in issues that they face.

The final piece of the experience is where guest speakers, like BNZ bank and other similar organisations in New Zealand, will showcase their strategies on how they’re integrating Māori culture into their day-to-day at work. Again, to play into that cultural exchange and give them ideas that they can take back to Canada.

Why is it so important to support Indigenous communities and encourage young people to work and travel?

It’s one of JENZA’s values to make travel for young people more accessible and affordable. I think the issue for more diverse communities, is that they don’t see it as an option for them. They tend to not know anyone from their own communities or families who have travelled.

Go International set up a Youth Forum in Canada similar to JENZA’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP). We had a consultation with their First Nation youth panel just to get an idea of what they would like to see from this experience and how we could make it work for them. One of the initial changes was the timing – we suggested September as it would be spring here, but that is when they go hunting for their families in Canada. Insights like this were so valuable in order to ensure we were giving them an experience that represented and excited them. They then went away and promoted the opportunity within their community.

This part was really important. You can’t just go into the community and say ‘go overseas’. You need to build up trust and connections. That’s also why this experience is more structured – to provide an extra level of safety. They’ll be travelling in a group with a team leader who is an older First Nations person for extra support.

Hopefully, once the first couple of groups arrive, this will lead to a knock-on effect: with more of the First Nations youth realising they have the opportunity to travel overseas too. From previous experience, once they realise someone from their community CAN do it, it inspires more to.

When will the Indigenous program take place?

The first group will come in from February 2024. It’s designed as a pilot to test, but we’re happy that we’ve also got another group signed up for March too, so there’ll be at least two groups four weeks apart.

Final question, what is your advice for other Indigenous communities who might be keen to reach out and be involved?

Things like funding are really important, we’ve found with Māori and First Nations communities that sometimes there is government and federal funding or even funding within their own tribes for development. Having a structured, safe program is likely to be something that they can approve. They might have different concerns and ideas for the structure or inclusions in the program depending on their culture too.

What we’d really love to do is make this a reciprocal experience – you could have young Māori go to Canada, we could add in Fiji or Australia, South America or anywhere in the world that could benefit from this cultural exchange.

If you want to learn more about this experience or get your own community involved - we're all ears. Drop us a message

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Georgie Birch

JENZA Staff | Melbourne, Australia

Originally from Oxford, our favourite UK import got the Australia bug and never left. Her happy place is the ocean and chasing waterfalls on hikes. Can also be found in Melbourne sipping on (extra) spicy margs with mates.

"It’s one of JENZA’s values to make travel for young people more accessible and affordable. I think the issue for more diverse communities, is that they don’t see it as an option for them."

Georgie_Profile_JENZA.png

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Georgie Birch

JENZA Staff | Melbourne, Australia

Originally from Oxford, our favourite UK import got the Australia bug and never left. Her happy place is the ocean and chasing waterfalls on hikes. Can also be found in Melbourne sipping on (extra) spicy margs with mates.

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