The finish line is here! Puti Clarke (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu) has put in four years of hard mahi and now graduated with a First Class Bachelor of Social Work Honours degree.
Originally from Waipawa, Puti left school at 15. Around that time, education didn’t interest her and she preferred to work instead. At 19, she fell pregnant with her first child, and one year later the second one came along. “I didn’t have an education and I had no idea where to go next but I realised that I wanted to build a life for my children and be someone they could be proud of.”
In 2015, Puti enrolled in an EIT certificate, back then called the Certificate in Education & Social Sciences. She was hooked from the get-go. “I really enjoyed the culture at EIT. It’s personal, inclusive, and welcoming. I also established great relationships with the lecturers,” she says.
Puti was 24 years old when she welcomed her third child. Her family duties didn’t hold her back from continuing her studies. The first year of the social work degree was a real game-changer. “As I learned about myself, understood why I reacted, how I reacted and gained more and more insights into my life and my experiences, a change happened – it was a journey of self-discovery. It was confronting but eye-opening at the same time.”
The two placements that she did as part of her programme also proved to be significant. Her first placement with the Cancer Support Team at Hawke’s Bay DHB left a lasting impression on her. “It was a humbling experience. When you work with terminally ill people, it changes your perception about life, the value of family support, and resilience. I also saw the challenges that these social workers are facing.” Puti discussed these issues in her research report, an “Investigation into the emotional resilience of palliative care social workers”, which her EIT supervisor and programme coordinator Charlotte Chisnell describes as a “superb piece of work”.
Her second placement with Oranga Tamariki was equally successful and led to a full-time position. Since November last year, Puti has been a member of the Intake and Assessment team, the first in New Zealand to sit alongside an iwi provider. Her goal is to solidify where she is at and to become a senior practitioner. “Although I need a break from studying, I will eventually do my Master’s and a Ph.D. I would love to become a lecturer.”
Puti says that she is passionate about social justice. ”I am a young solo-mum and a Māori woman. It felt like the odds were against me. I wanted to prove all of it wrong, and I did, for my children and myself.” Puti acknowledges that it took a village of people who supported her and understood where she was at. “These past four to five years have not been in isolation. It never would have been possible without my family,” she says.
“The degree really set me up and I got so much out of it. There are many lightbulb moments at work where I can apply my knowledge. This is when the magic happens and when it all comes together.”