Mereana Vaka

Mereana Vaka

Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa

Whakawhanaungatanga, the process of establishing relationships, is the not-so-secret top tip to successfully navigate the University of Waikato’s one-year te reo Māori full immersion programme, Te Tohu Paetahi (TTP), according to 2020 graduate Mereana Vak

Mereana Vaka

Mereana says her kaiako (teacher), Ngairo Eruera, encouraged from day one.

“Ngairo says, ‘your classmates are your best resource’, and it’s true. You will naturally build relationships with your classmates, so nurture those relationships, get into study groups, kōrero together and share the journey.”

Hailing from Ruatōrea in the East Coast, Mereana was passionate to learn te reo Māori and reclaim her language. Mereana says it was a “no-brainer” to enrol in Te Tohu Paetahi while on maternity leave from her mahi at kōhanga reo.

Starting out with a kōhanga level of te reo Māori, Mereana could put some sentences together but couldn’t hold a conversation in te reo Māori before reverting to English. She doesn’t sugar-coat the intensity of the TTP workload. Her third child was only eight-months-old when Mereana started her studies so balancing family commitments was a constant juggle.

“Our whānau are quite busily involved within our whare karakia and I am also one of the acting chairpersons of my son’s kōhanga,” says Mereana. “There were a lot of late nights. When you’re a wife, a māmā and studying, you find that at night when kids are asleep, you just want downtime.”

The juggle was worth it. Acquiring fluency has enhanced Mereana’s life in many ways.

“Te Tohu Paetahi has been liberating for me mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It has been an awakening to my identity as a Māori and has solidified the foundations of my lived experiences."

"I have gained the ability to not only speak but to understand and comprehend in my native tongue. I have gained a much deeper insight to the ideologies and methodologies of a Te Ao Māori worldview. I have gained healing and restoration of my language."

In 2021, pregnant with her fourth child, Mereana cross-credited her diploma into a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Te Reo Māori and Māori and Indigenous Studies. If she hadn’t done TTP, she says she wouldn’t have pursued university study.

“TTP has been a spring board for me into limitless potential and possibilities. From my Bachelor of Arts degree, I aspire to do a Graduate Diploma in Teaching to share my learnings and pass knowledge onto the next generation of tamariki.”

Mereana enjoys catching up with fellow TTP graduates, including Catherine Graham who she sees regularly on campus. “Our exchanges are always refreshing and uplifting,” says Mereana. The pair established a lifelong friendship during their first year at the University and both women have continued onto further study with Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao – the Faculty of Māori & Indigenous Studies.

Mereana recommends Te Tohu Paetahi to “anyone and everyone who is on their journey of reclaiming their language”, and those wanting to learn in an immersive setting. “Tūwhitia te hopo, mairangatia te angitū - feel the fear and do it anyway.”

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps to take this Te Tohu Paetahi journey?

KARAWHIUA!!!!! Go for it!!!! Do it!!!!!
You will not find any course like when it comes to learning Te Reo Māori. For those here in Tauranga, you are very blessed to be taught, in my opinion, by the best. Ngairo has a way of teaching that is so easy and quick to learn from. He does not beat around the bush and is very straight forward and straight up but is so very humble. He is a wealth of knowledge. Ahenata-May Daniels is an amazing kaiāhwina support person and just has such a heart for your wairua.

Mereana Vaka

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