One week in Bangkok...

18 August 2017

Crystal Tawhai
Management student Crystal Tawhai, chosen to speak at the closing of the International Leadership Symposium.

With a big ideas and a healthy dose of self-belief, Crystal Tawhai is grateful for the opportunities she’s receiving on and off campus; helping achieve at university and in the community.

Crystal was one of seven University of Waikato Management School students who travelled to Bangkok earlier this month to an international University Scholars Leadership Symposium, joining about 900 uni students from 78 countries.

The symposium was hosted by Humanitarian Affairs (Asia) and the UN Development Programme at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

During their week in the Thai capital the students listened to motivational speakers, heard from social entrepreneurs, worked in various Thai communities and had plenty of time for networking.

Crystal received a Waikato University Te Pūtea Tautoko Scholarship to assist her travel to Bangkok. The scholarship is awarded to Māori students in their final year of study who have a good academic record but whose financial circumstances may constrain their academic success. The scholarship can be used to attend conferences or similar events that might assist in their learning and future careers.

Among the symposium speakers was Canadian Ryan Hrelijac, a CNN Young Miracle Maker and founder of Ryan’s Well, a non-profit water charity providing clean, safe water in developing countries. His idea came from a project he did at school as a six-year-old, and now his organisation has implemented sanitation projects throughout Africa and Haiti. For Crystal, he was inspiring.

“What I learned from Ryan was that you can start small, you can be an underdog, and that age and experience are not essential for success. He showed that from humble beginnings anything is possible.”

Crystal (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngai te Rangi, Ngāti Pukenga) says her origins were humble too, but she’s taken opportunities as they’ve come her way, getting and giving in equal measure.

A former student of Hillcrest High School, Crystal first attended Waikato University straight from school. But she decided she needed to explore the world a bit more, so for the next four years she worked at ACC and traveled.

She returned to university in 2015 and is now studying for a Bachelor of Communication Studies double majoring in Leadership Communication and Public Policy. Alongside her study, she works at UniRec (the University of Waikato gym), is a member of the Waikato University Te Āhurutanga Māori leadership programme, has done voluntary work in the suburb of Nawton mentoring primary school-aged children, and is youth mentoring too.

“Part of our trip involved going to work on local farms. Their work philosophy is different from ours, starting with a prayer, and working collectively, pooling resources to fund their farms. They have 23 goodness indicators focussed on good leadership, good minds and good unity. It was great to see fields of mud transformed to fields of green,” Crystal says.

On the last day of the symposium, Crystal was one of eight students chosen by Kim Solomon, Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs Asia, to share about their symposium experience. Initially she “freaked out” but said yes, started with a mihi, gave an insight into Māori culture and then reflected on her week.

Crystal still has the travel bug, but after graduation she’d like to secure a job that supports Māori advancement; socially, culturally, economically and politically. “And eventually I’d like to be a policy maker,” she says.

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