An unlikely friendship with an eight-year-old girl in the Bay of Plenty foster care system cemented American-born Amanda Rose Steckling’s decision to study social work at the University of Waikato in Tauranga.
“She’s kind of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. She’s part of my journey,” says Amanda.
The pair first met when Amanda worked at an after school programme in Tauranga the then six-year-old girl attended. The pair formed a close bond and when she learnt the girl’s story, Amanda was inspired to become a foster carer. She filled in the forms, applied and waited. Hearing nothing back she assumed her application had been turned down.
Virtually a year to the day later, a speaker from a local Child and Family Support Service gave a presentation at Amanda’s church. She spoke about kids in need of positive role models and gave an example of a young girl whose story sounded familiar. The stars aligned and now the two enjoy Friday movie nights complete with popcorn and treats. The rest of the weekend usually includes some backyard soccer or a hike up Mauao while Sunday mornings are spent at church. Two years of consistent contact and care has seen a huge change in the girl, who spends one weekend a month, sometimes more, with Amanda. The lessons learnt have gone both ways.
“Learning to love somebody where they’re at instead of wanting them to be something they’re not is a beautiful thing to be part of.”
Minnesota born and raised, Amanda was a former logistics specialist with the US military and served a year in Afghanistan. On return to the States, struggling with a loss of identity and lack of direction, she entered a downward spiral of depression.
It took Amanda nearly a year to get out of the negative place she was in. With her military contract coming to an end she was drawn to a church-led programme called Intimacy to Impact. Although there was one offered in Pennsylvania, her father encouraged her to apply for the Tauranga-based version run by Youth with a Mission (YWAM) Bethlehem.
Despite only hearing about New Zealand once, Amanda upped sticks and moved. Three years later, she realised her long term goals with the ministry would benefit from a grounding in social work. With military benefits allowing her to study in different parts of the world she was delighted to find out the University of Waikato offered the Bachelor of Social Work at its Tauranga campus.
“It worked out perfectly for me to come to this university as it was based in, what I consider to be, my home town.”
Now in her third year of study Amanda is already contemplating the different avenues that social work can take her. Keen to work in New Zealand initially, she plans to fulfil a deep-held longing to work in different nations too.
“There is so much scope with social work – working with refugees or in cultural restoration, prostitution, sex trafficking - there are so many areas where people need support. This degree really prepares you well for the reality of how tough it is out there.”
While juggling studies with work and time with her foster friend Amanda-Rose helps boyfriend Dave and friend Nicky develop a fair trade clothing company in India. Amanda-Rose’s role deals with “the heart side of things” like ensuring a safe environment and decent wages for the workers. People Clothing currently operates online selling fair trade tee shirts with plans to expand into other lines. Any spare moment she sees as another opportunity to walk the talk.
“The best advice I was given in one of my first lectures was to clean up your backyard before you try to clean up someone else’s. The job is selfless and it’s about loving the one in front of you and having the hope, strength and confidence to change what’s happening. You’ve really got to carry hope strong.”