From humble beginnings in South Waikato, to forging an inspiring career path helping communities, Chaz wasn’t always sure he belonged.
Born at Matariki Hospital in Te Awamutu, Chaz was the apple of his Mothers eye. Growing up as an only child, having little contact with his half siblings from his Dads previous marriage, there was always love and opportunities for fun made around him.
After his parents separation at a young age, Chaz’s household, consisting of Him, his Mum and a couple of pets, had a great relationship with his Grandparents, with fond memories of being doted on and having trips to see his Great-Grandmother, quality family time informed a lot of his out look on life.
Moving a few times in Te Awamutu, spending some years in the Bay of Plenty then returning to the mighty Waikato for school, Chaz took his natural ability to lead and communicate and worked hard to put himself in leadership positions; in community youth groups and being head boy at his high school.
Whilst his simple, happy home life and becoming a figure in his local community was very fulfilling, Chaz had a distant relationship with his Dads side of the family, and a disconnect to his Māori heritage. This feeling of not knowing where to categorise himself took its toll, like it does with many young people, particularly those with mixed racial backgrounds.
As he had done many times before with his leadership and community efforts, Chaz acted on heart and began a journey to discover his whakapapa, travelling to his Marae and creating deeper relationships with some relatives. This experience re-shaped part of his world view and allowed him to feel better connected to his community, his family and his Dad.
Chaz is now a youth worker at Real Waikato here in Hamilton, Real supports young people and their whanau to create opportunities to feel better about themselves, with in-school programmes, mentoring and much more.
We were lucky enough to chat to Chaz about his background and journey - he has an amazing outlook on people and their issues and is an epic example of Waikato’s finest young people making a difference!
You’ve had such an epic journey of self-discovery over the last few years, how did you find your purpose?
I have the privilege of working with rangatahi and whānau, to do my part in them feeling great about who they are. I need to say that working alongside others is exactly that, a privilege. Whether through kapa haka groups at primary and secondary school, or mentoring rangatahi through challenging times, I always consider myself fortunate to be allowed into the life of another no matter how long or short a time that is.
I had a very blessed upbringing. My memories are of warm, happy times with our small whanau. A few years ago, I began work as a mentor. I got a glimpse into the lives of some rangatahi and the only word I can use is shocked. I believe everyone deserves to feel great about who they are. So, if I can help that happen, that's what I'm about.
What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered on your journey so far, and how did you overcome it?
A lot of people in my life have had polarising view. Have you heard the expression "a square peg in a round hole"? I think that explains some of my challenges a lot. I spent the bulk of my teenage years heavily involved in church ministry. This gave me many good things, and also caused me to see things too black and white. Ultimately this caused me to judge myself and others too harshly, but is a tight spot to be in, which you can relate to if you are familiar with strong beliefs such as religion. I also come from a split family, which is more common now days and has been a journey of re-connection for me, particularly with my father's side, who is Māori. This has involved some sad stories and tough conversations and has a lot to do with one challenge that I still face often.
To my non-Māori friends, I'm seen as pretty ‘Māori’, and to my Māori friends, I'm ‘white’. I often feel like I have to qualify myself, one way or another. I'm either ‘A weird Christian" or ‘not Christian enough’. It's funny how we like to categorise people. I guess the best thing that I have that helps me is people I can depend on. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have people who love you enough to be there when it matters, challenge the way you think and encourage you to be the best version of you. Having these people in my life means I can conquer the world.
What do you think we need to do as young people to support each other more?
We need to talk more.
Māori have a saying, "Kanohi ki te kanohi", face to face. I think this is very important. When you were a new-born baby, you had very little means of communication. Looking up your mum, Dad or whoever you depended on, this released endorphins in your brain that said you were happy, cared for and safe.
There is something about experiencing other people through all our senses that we can't get through a screen. Also, when we are together, we are doing. I think this is also important, that we do. My Nana wasn't a psychologist, so how did she show me I was important? She played last card with me, made me ham sandwiches after school while I watched Transformers, she took me to see my great grandmother every other weekend.
We need to do more for and with each other. Research also shows that spending time with a friend dramatically helps us through tough times. Talking has a big place, but often doing is when really cool things can happen.
What do you do to practice self-love and maintain positive mental health?
I have to be honest and say that I usually laugh at these types of questions.
I don't mean to minimise the value of looking after yourself, more I question the market trying to sell you these things.
Things become so trendy that suddenly ideas like ‘self-love’, ‘mindfulness’, and inner well-being’ are coming from Facebook posts and magazines rather that from people.
I like to make sure I do the staple things; I eat good food, not always the most healthy, but home cooked with a balance of veges, I exercise in the gym and out in the fresh air, I get a good sleep, I can sleep anywhere! And I have good people that I make sure to spend time with.
Breathing is also a very basic, and yet such a helpful tool that I take for granted all the time! Stopping what I'm doing for a minute with a couple of deep breaths really changes how I'm feeling in the moment, especially while I'm driving!
What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou.
Said by a great woman, Google her when you get a chance.
It was also said to me by someone I respect a lot.
What makes you excited about the future?
Looking at recent events at Ihumātao in the last few days, I think what excites me is the strength in what our generation and those younger than us have. Young people have access to information that gives them a place to belong in a global network.
There are more Māori doctors, lawyers and other professionals than ever, and this number continues to grow. Women are incrementally closing gender inequality, with a bad-ass Prime Minister disrupting societal norms and forging the way for women to be more celebrated now than in all our history.
A large portion of iwi have come through post-treaty settlements and are thriving after decades of land confiscation and dis-empowerment. Mental Health is immersed in public awareness and we are more comfortable with talking about these issues than our parents and grandparents were. We have high school students passionate about global climate change that will one day lead society. We have a lot to work on, but, I am very excited about the future for this small, special country I call home.
What advice would you give to other young people who might be struggling?
I suggest reaching out to the people you have around you. This is so simple and yet can be very difficult. Open up to someone you trust. Professional (Youthline/Lifeline, councilor, religious adviser) or personal (friend, neighbour, family member, workmate, running mate, class mate).
Get alongside good people that have their s**t together enough to listen and support you. They may not have all the answers, in fact they won't, but the best thing I can say is that one good person I trust is priceless when I am struggling.
You may have to go looking for that person, they may not already exist in your circles, but keep looking and don't give up, they're there somewhere.
If you could wave a magic wand and rid the world of one thing, what would it be and why?
The first thing that comes to mind is plastic!
But, if I think deeper about that, I think I would like to see less fear. Not completely erase fear altogether, but I Imagine how my life would look if I wasn't afraid of some things.
What would I do differently tomorrow if I didn't fear the outcome? Would we see so much hate if we did not fear other's differences? Would we spend more time with each other without fear of losing time? Would we dare to be more vulnerable to people we care about without the fear of having to defend our thoughts and beliefs? Would we be more reliant on people, than money? I think that's what I would do.
If you want to know more about Chaz and follow his journey, give him a follow on Instagram here!