By Pauline Stewart.
“We got the key and opened this building November 2021. Sasha and I are finally operating our bi-lingual preschool education project.” These words spoken by Maddie Johnson are the outcome of some years of very hard work and a few miracles along the way.
The project is Te Puna Reo o Whitianga, a bi-lingual certificated playgroup through the Ministry of Education. situated on South Highway just south of MBAS in a well signed pale blue building set off the road a short distance and ready for families with pre-school children from across Mercury Bay.
In this work, Maddie has a partner, Sasha Hoar who has come on board recently. “We were both concerned about the shortage of teachers and the massive shortage of Maori teachers,” Maddie says. “I said to Sasha one day at the bus stop that I was starting a course of online education to be a bi-lingual teacher. She didn’t know that I had already been calling a few places that would provide a quality course but that would also enable me to still be a mother and look after my children at home. I had researched a few places but hadn’t found the right course. Finally, I came across, a Māori Education Institution, part of the education of teachers in New Zealand, - Te Wananga o Raukawa.
Sasha is an orchardist, but she had been looking for the same thing as me. So now we are both doing the course, and we are in our third year,” Maddie smiles.
Maddie’s story goes back a little further.
Maddie started a bilingual playgroup in Perth many years ago, when she was living there, and it was really successful. “I was missing my whanau and I thought If I can do this in Australia, then why can’t I do it in New Zealand? I needed my kids to be in touch with their culture, so we came home.
“Before I came here, I got to know Bess Kingi through Facebook. She helped prepare the way for me to begin exploring the possibility in Whitianga. She even found a space for an early learning playgroup before I arrived. In fact, Bess co-founded Te Puna Reo o Whitianga with me before I met Sasha who came on board later in 2021. First, we were offered a room at the Crossroads Fellowship - their activities room. Then, we had the dental clinic rooms. Finally, this building became available. My Dad is a builder, and he came up and installed the whole kitchen for me. He has always been a DIY person and he has transformed entire properties. I learned a lot from him. As well as building a kitchen, we have removed walls, made window spaces, painted everything. There was no garden when we came, just lots of undergrowth, like a jungle.”
Sasha- “I was born in Thames and raised here.” says Sasha. “I am an orchardist when I am not teaching and working here with children and parents. My passion is for the kids and helping them find their own passions. I am a naturalist. Yes, I really am. What is more natural than the children finding what is their passion? I believe our society has a disconnection in the process of early learning. We need to help children see and understand the full process of beginnings, growth, dying and new life.”
When the women talk about their background, it is easy to understand their passion and commitment. Maddie says, “I am part Polish, mostly Maori, and part American Indian - so this place, Te Puna Reo O Whitianga is a safe place to be Maori. I suffered with post-natal depression, so I understand child rearers and care-givers need space too and opportunities for affirmation and relaxing. I was born in Taumaranui, lived in Whitianga, then on the North Shore and up north In the Bay of Islands, also Perth. But this is home for now.”
“This space is just as important for the Mums, Dads and caregivers as it is for the children. We want to build a connection to the whanau and the community,” says Sasha.
Left: Maddie Johnson, right Sasha Hoar.