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Passionate about education and social work

December 20, 2019

A woman passionate about education and social work is behind the Bachelor of Social Work at EIT Tairāwhiti.

Site coordinator of the programme that is now a four-year honours degree is Gisborne woman Rehia Whaanga.

The 37-year-old has more than a decade of educating others about mental health and social work after starting off as a student when EIT was Tairāwhiti Polytechnic.

Born and bred on Great Barrier Island, Rehia came to Gisborne after completing high school to connect with her Father’s side of the family and complete a certificate in Māori performing arts

She has both Māori and Pākehā heritage, on her father’s side whakapapa links to Rakaipaaka and Ngāti  Kahungunu (Nuhaka Mahia northern Hawke’s Bay region).

Growing up on Great Barrier Island meant high school was on the mainland.

“We were classified rural so I went to boarding school and going to a Māori girl’s school Te Kura Kuini Wikitoria, was pivotal in terms of my pathway and where I ended up.

“When I finished high school I really wanted to change and decided to connect with my extended family, my grandparents lived in Gisborne. I came here in 2000 and have never left.”

After gaining a certificate and diploma in social work at the then polytechnic, she did some youth social work. 

“I applied and got the tutor role for the mental health certificate and soon made my way back to social work teaching the certificate in social services”

The polytechnic merged with EIT and Rehia merged also in the role.

She continued studying, gaining her degree in social work through Wintech.

At the same time, EIT was looking to redevelop its degree into a Bachelor of Social Work – a four-year honours programme.

Rehia has been part of the development of that programme which has an inquiry-based approach to learning.

 “A most important part of the development has been the voice of the advisory committee made up of representatives from Hauora Tairāwhiti, Barnardos , Te Runganga-o-Ngati Porou, Tauawhi Men’s Centre  and Oranga Tamariki. 

“They have been fundamental not only to the development but providing practicums for students and support of the course in general, keeping us informed.”

This year marks the first batch of graduands, who will graduate next year. One with honours. “

Producing competent capable and effective social workers is what the EIT Tairāwhiti social work degree aims to provide.

Judging by the employment opportunities the graduands from this course have, it is working.

This also reflects the shortage and the need for social workers in our community.

The course is a mix of online and face to face learning.

In years, three and four students undertake two 60-day practicums. With a wealth of training behind them by this stage, they are able to work independently and make decisions while doing their practicums, says Rehia.

Feedback from organisations where students have been placed has been really positive.

With three busy daughters at home, Rehia is in the final stages of completing her thesis for a master of social work.

“For me it is really important and a natural progression to be upskilling to continue teaching – getting a higher education permeates to what students receive in the classroom.”

Influenced by the support given to her while she was training, she is committed and passionate about the potential success in all students.

“We have a huge need for good social workers who can bring about social change and support our community.”

*** Anyone interested in the Bachelor of Social Work programme can go to EIT website or come to the main office and pick up an enrolment pack. The next course starts in February 2020.