words: Leanne Gichard

images: Leanne Gichard & supplied

Mahu Maireriki doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks it.  Having been, in his own words, “A ward of the state in Australia at age 11”, he knows all too well how hard it can be for youth and adults to reach for the stars and achieve their dreams, especially when life, whether through circumstance or unwise choices, has left someone in an unfortunate position.

After Mahu and his wife Lydia set up local business Kai & Kutz on Tancred Street, they felt that they could make a positive difference, particularly for at-risk youth, by setting up a mentoring programme, named Starfish Enterprise.   “I knew first-hand how limiting my youth was in determining my job choices.  I worked as a labourer until I was 40 years old and often used to look at 18 year olds who not only had a better job with more opportunities, but also had confidence in their abilities.  Lydia and I wanted to help encourage others to broaden their horizons and dare to follow their dreams,” Mahu says passionately.

First, they had to find funding to set up the scheme and after presenting a business case and training, they were successful in their application to Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu.   Starfish Enterprise was born and liaises with local businesses and the YMCA to place individuals into a six-month mentoring programme, which gives six months of work experience for those enrolled in the scheme. 

So, how does the scheme work?  “Starfish Enterprise is the employer and we pay a living wage of $22.10 per hour to each person enrolled in the scheme.  We pay a living wage because we feel it is important to give people dignity and fair pay.  We then have a mentoring contract with businesses who provide on-job training and mentoring.  The mentoring scheme provides six months employment, at which point it is hoped that the mentor may offer further employment, or if not, the participant now has the skills and confidence necessary to apply for other roles,” Mahu says.

How successful has the scheme been so far?  “Currently our programme is full, but we hope to be able to offer 16 places next year and double that the following year.  Classes are also provided for those enrolled in our mentoring programme for budgeting and financing.  We encourage those participants to bring their parents/caregivers along and we provide a light supper afterwards,” Mahu replies.

Is the scheme targeted at youth only?  “We employee youth, 14 years and older, but preferably in the 16 -18 years old age bracket, although having said that, we do currently employ an adult too.  Currently we have six kids enrolled in the scheme.  Lydia and I employ two boys in our business, plus an adult.   One of the boys has been bullied at school and I am working with him to help him build up self-esteem and get confidence.   We have placed the other applicants on farms, in the retail sector and also learning welding and cutting metal,” Mahu says.

Mahu continues, “Some youth don’t realise the basic things needed when starting work; like the fact you need to phone your employer to let them know if you are unable to come into work or are sick; it’s a learning curve, making sure you are on time, learning to sign in and sign out, having the right attitude.  That’s what we are here to help with.  We feel that the kids are really blessed to have this opportunity in Ashburton.”