Deborah and Jackson Wood

Deborah and Jackson Wood

Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru (Deborah), Ngāti Raukawa Ki Te Tonga, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Whakatere (Jackson)

Husband-and-wife duo Deborah and Jackson Wood both graduated from the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus in September with their Diploma in Te Tohu Paetahi (TTP).

Deborah and Jackson Wood

The intensive, one-year total immersion Māori language programme, which is taught at both the Tauranga and Hamilton campuses, was a “life-changing” experience for the couple, says Deborah Wood (Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru).

“Kāre he kupu… I have no words to describe the experience. Our kaiako Ngairo Eruera was amazing; I feel really privileged to have been taught by him and Ahenata-May Daniels. It’s been life changing; my world has been turned upside down and is now facing the right way up,” says Deborah.

A trained primary school teacher with a Master of Educational Leadership degree (also from Waikato University), Deborah decided to enrol in Te Tohu Paetahi in 2021 after being challenged “to learn te reo Māori” by a tumuaki from Ruatōria.

“This gave me the courage to chase something that has always been missing,” says Deborah.

When he found out Deborah was doing the diploma, husband Jackson Wood (Ngāti Raukawa Ki Te Tonga, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Whakatere), decided to sign up too.

Together Deb and Jackson decided they wanted to role model to their children that reo Māori is important and together they wanted to bring the language and culture back into their whānau.

“I have always wanted to be able to understand and speak te reo Māori,” says Jackson, who had been working as a self-employed plumber and gas fitter before starting the programme. “Then the opportunity came up for Deb and I to both study together.”

Adds Deborah: “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as I was the successful recipient of a full-year scholarship to learn te reo Māori through The Education Review Office.”

Jackson down-sized his business to commit to full-time university study.

“I wanted to put all my efforts into this course,” he says. “It was a bit of a leap of faith when I first floated the idea, and we initially thought there was no way [I could stop working], it was too out-of-the-square.”

However, the support they got from lecturers, classmates and their family got them through the programme.

Their tamariki - Karleigh, 28, Jazmyn, 22, Jackson, 18, and Izzy, 13 - have been a source of encouragement and motivation for the couple.

The course has been immensely valuable to both Deborah and Jackson, personally and professionally.

Deborah’s current mahi as the Manager of Research and Evaluation at the Education Review Office in Wellington has largely focused research in Kaupapa Māori and Māori in English Medium schools. Deborah and her team are currently developing the framework for te reo Māori in English Medium.

Jackson is continuing his te reo study in 2022, and has benefitted from the strong foundation that TTP gave him.

“I’m feeling more confident, and it’s opened my eyes up to more things in te ao Māori [the Māori world],” says Jackson, whose mother was Māori and father was Scottish. “I definitely feel a stronger connection to my whakapapa, and that I’m proud to be Māori.”

Deborah and Jackson encourage others to take the leap, and commit to learning to te reo Māori.

“Learning my own language has strengthened my own cultural identity, whakapapa knowledge and whānau connections,” says Deborah. “Knowing your first language is critical for understanding who you are, while contributing to the revitalisation of the language.”

Deborah and Jackson Wood

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