Ruby Bishara

Senior Social Work Practitioner with Te Runanga o Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Trust - Tauranga, Bay of Plenty

Key Info

Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Te Rangi

  • Bachelor of Social Work
  • Social Work

Like many Kiwis, Ruby Bishara’s dream was to own a home for her family. But, as a single mother raising two daughters while working part-time to supplement her Work and Income benefit, that dream seemed unattainable.

“I needed to get my affairs in order to realise my dream of buying a home,” says Ruby. “I was the only one that could change my circumstance.”

Ruby set about increasing her credit rating and looked at career options that would provide good job prospects. With varied experience including fitness instructing, support work and supervising afterschool and holiday programmes, Ruby was already highly employable but she wanted to aim higher. Of Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Te Rangi descent, Ruby says her drive to be a social worker was to honour what her parents wanted for her and her four siblings.

“My whānau are all in helping professions and do a lot for our hapū and iwi. Dad would give the shirt off his back to help anyone and Mum is the one who sees someone alone and she’s right there next to them. I saw social work as a way to make sure people’s voices are heard and recognised the opportunity for me to highlight whānau voice.”

Originally from Masterton, Ruby lived in Whangarei for many years before moving to Mount Maunganui in 2012. Ruby had heard good things about the University of Waikato and the credibility of its social work programme in Tauranga, so she enrolled in the four-year degree.

Ruby admits going back to study as a mature student had its challenges. She had to get her head around academic writing and despite being excited to meet new people, she was anxious too. A standout memory was the first ‘icebreaker’ assignment where the class introduced themselves and shared details of their lives.

“After my presentation, another student came up and introduced herself as Kim and we talked about all the things we had in common,” says Ruby.

It was the start of a friendship that sustained Ruby through university, even the tough times when she thought about giving up.

“Kim lifted me up and gave me the encouragement I needed to carry on. I’m grateful to have met her and it’s a friendship that will last a lifetime.”

Ruby says along with the connections you make, the highlight of the programme is the placements where students get to put theory into practice. Her first placement was at Impac Tauranga in Brookfield, a non-profit organisation operated through the Tauranga Christian Community Trust that focuses on education and residential care for young people and their families.

“One of my lecturers, Albert, said that social work theories will make sense and, for me, this placement was where the penny dropped and I understood where theories fit into social work practice and how you apply them.”

Her second placement was with Pacific Health Community Mental Health Services in Whakatāne. Here, Ruby learnt the importance of defining roles and responsibilities when collaborating with other professionals to achieve the best outcomes for whānau.

“I took the time to introduce myself to everyone and find out about what they did. That was a piece of taonga that I’ve taken into every role since. It is so important – it ensures that I am on the same page as my colleagues and we are all working in the best interests of the whānau.”’

Since graduating in 2018, Ruby has had roles with Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children, Family Works and Ngā Mataapuna Oranga PHO. She started a new job in July as a senior practitioner with Te Runanga o Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Trust in Tauawhia (meaning ‘embrace’), a service that embraces Whānau experiencing homelessness to support them and increase their skills to maintain and sustain a home.

“We support our whānau to improve their housing stability. However, we must not forget that our whānau have the knowledge, we know this because their Tupuna have taught them, we are simply there to remind them and help bring the knowledge back,” she says.

She offers a few words of wisdom to students considering a career in social work.

“I would 100% recommend this programme of study. It expands your mind, makes you see and hear things differently and shifts your thinking. I am really appreciative of what it’s taught me about myself. It’s not an easy path but it’s worth it. Just remember who you are, ask for help and love your whānau.”

For the past year, Ruby has juggled more study around her work. She’s a few weeks shy of completing her second tertiary qualification, Kaitiakitanga: Postgraduate Diploma in Bicultural Professional Supervision from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. The course has helped Ruby to develop her own model of practice which incorporates principles of Te Ao Māori.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. However, I believe that when I develop the practice, it is not mine to keep but for others to use. During the course we had to rangahau our pūrākau (tell the story of our research). The pūrākau of our whānau, hapū and iwi is Waiata. My Mum helped me understand that Waiata is much more than singing. From generation to generation, teaching is done through Waiata and principles are passed down as whānau sing together. Some of these principles have informed my model of social work practice.”

Next year, Ruby plans to pursue a Master of Indigenous Studies with the long-term goal of holding a management role in an organisation.

With all she’s accomplished, Ruby’s daughters remain her greatest achievement. Ruby was the first in her whānau to attend university, but she won’t be the last. Her eldest, Ashlee, is in her last semester at Auckland University studying a double major in Employment Relations and Psychology. Her youngest, Stevee, is in year 13 at Tauranga Girls’ College and plans to study midwifery which has been an aspiration of hers from a young age.  Ruby is proud to have instilled a love of learning in her girls.

And as for the dream of home ownership? Ruby bought her first home two years ago.

“Going to university taught me so much but, most importantly, it taught me to aspire, to dream. As social workers, we can aspire to be anything. Now I aspire higher in everything I do.”

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