Social Work Study Empowering

January 11, 2017

Gwen in her element with her partner Gregor, son Torrin and dog Stomper.

For Gwen Hinga, completing her Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences at EIT is a way of giving the guarded, wary girl she once was some power to make things right.

Drawn to the East Coast from Whanganui by the surf, Gwen “fell in love” with Gisborne and moved here 12 years ago to work as a veterinary nurse.

While pregnant with her son Torrin she realised she needed a change, as memories of her own childhood came flooding back.

“My mother became unwell and was diagnosed with a severe mental illness, and because she didn’t have support, my sister and I were placed
in a lot of foster care families. We were given this idea – from foster families and whanau – that you needed to be pakeha to succeed, and it took
years of reflection to dispel that.”

The sisters were fortunate to end up in a family environment where they got the nurturing that children need.

“We ended up in a family home made up of displaced children – kids who have nowhere else to go while waiting for homes. We were in there
for five years and I loved it. It was safe, loving and ever-changing. The parents running the home ended up taking legal guardianship of my sister and me, which gave us the aroha, strength and support to strive. I now have five brothers and sisters.”

In 2011 she felt it was time to redeem some of her negative childhood experiences and called in to EIT to find out about social work.

“I picked up a pack and asked about the programme and everyone was great and that was it. I enrolled. I turned up with my baby and no-one said anything and it was great. EIT was flexible, it gave me that room to do one or two courses each semester. The online components allowed me to just work from home.”

As someone with a keen sense for injustice, her study often felt like a validation of feelings she did not always have the confidence to vocalise, and she gained “ideas about how we might move
forward without the whole cycle of conflict and violence”.

Gwen says she is excited at the prospect of helping people look for solutions, and now feels more empowered to speak up when she thinks something is not right.

“My childhood was hard but not compared to many, and I do not see myself as a victim. I never thought I would be nothing, but I am more than I thought I would be. You can get lost in situations, or you can do what you can and get people to move with you. My partner Gregor never questioned my decision to study and his support helped me to succeed.”