Napier’s Davina Wainohu has much to celebrate when she’s capped later this month.
The 35-year-old will be the first Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences valedictorian to represent graduates at EIT Hawke’s Bay’s annual capping ceremony. She’s also the first in her whanau to get a degree.
Having completed her qualification, Davina is now a social worker for CYFS – a job she absolutely loves.
Her story of achievement has been “a hell of a journey” from troubled beginnings. It is also the catalyst for positive change in an extended family that was enmeshed in a gang culture. Visiting the EIT campus, Davina is happy to greet whanau who have similarly committed to tertiary studies.
With an upbringing split between parents and relatives, Davina grew up unsure about where to connect. Looking back at her years at Tamatea High School where she was one of only two sixth formers studying Māori, she realises she was striving for a sense of identity.
Davina and her partner left Hawke’s Bay to put their drug and alcohol addictions behind them. The trigger was their son who, born two months premature, struggled to survive.
Now a well-adjusted teenager, he has benefitted from his parents’ determination to defeat their demons. Starting as a cleaner at a Bay of Plenty mussel farm, Davina worked her way up into a job in human resources while her partner managed the company’s 240 staff.
After nine years in Tauranga, the couple quit well-paid jobs when the business became part of a multi-million dollar corporate, a structure that did not suit the couple.
Returning to Napier, Davina – intrigued by the way people interact and do the things they do – signed up for degree study and went on to major in social work.
She was amazed by the support EIT gave its Māori students. The commitment of her programme lecturers was “unbelievable”, and she surprised herself by notching up nothing less than As and Bs.
“I was rapt. Learning was easy – it was more the life stuff that went with it that was hard.
“When you are dealing with people in vulnerable situations,” she says of social work, counselling and psychotherapy, “it’s about not putting your own stuff on it.
“The way I see it is that at the end of day I got my degree, but the key was learning what I did along the way. I had to look back on my life at some of the things I would rather not have addressed – my own fallibilities.”
Despite the hardships of those early years, Davina is also grateful to her whanau for teaching her many of life’s hard lessons.
A fighter by nature, she took up martial arts to channel her aggression into positive directions and is now a black belt in freestyle karate.
Having got her degree and doing a job she loves, Davina considers herself “blessed”.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” she says, “and I’m so glad to be out the other side.”