As a youngster EIT student Levi Armstrong (Ngati Kahungunu) could have gone down the wrong path in life, but he didn’t, and now he has just received top marks for his postgraduate degree through EIT.
Levi was recently notified that he had completed a Masters in Health Science with Distinction and he will graduate later this year. He says it has been an incredible journey and he is humbled to have had an opportunity that many rangatahi in his position often felt they did not have.
“Education has made me a better man, an educated Māori man! My brain has soaked up so much research over the past 24 months and it has also tested my resilience at times.”
“I wanted to give up on so many occasions, but I thought of it like the gym, just keep turning up every day and you will get the results.”
His love for fitness and a desire to educate himself saw him and his younger brother Junior, who now works for Sport New Zealand, enrol at EIT.
“We studied together through EIT, and it’s been a massive achievement for us. Studying was never considered an option in our whānau as there was the fear of the unknown. But now it is about creating a pathway for whānau who come from similar gang backgrounds, to say: ‘Hey, we can do it. THAT’S US!’”
Fitness was a means of escape for Levi from a young age so it made sense that he should enrol in programmes at EIT’s School of Health and Sport Science. What started out as studying for a certificate, led to the NZ Diploma in Sport, Recreation and Exercise and then the Bachelor of Sport and Recreation and finally enrolling in the Master of Health Science.
Levi says that by educating himself, he feels he is able – along with his wife Dana, who also has just submitted her Masters thesis – to help create and build initiatives for whānau and communities to engage and empower them to create positive and transformational change.
“We need to pass this knowledge on to others. Knowledge is power.”
It has been a long journey for Dana and Levi, who have juggled a young family (now comprising four children), study, community work and trying to make a living.
Levi’s Master of Health Science thesis was entitled The Meke Meter: Exploring the wellbeing and quality of life of New Zealanders during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“The aim of this study was to explore the quality of life and wellbeing of New Zealanders during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 using the online Meke Meter™ app. The Meke Meter™ is a subjective hauora (holistic health and wellbeing) self-assessment tool developed in consultation with Indigenous communities. As part of the research, participants were also asked about the usefulness of the Meke Meter™ and whether they intended to continue using it.”
“I looked at the impact of a lockdown on people’s physical wellbeing. They were restricted to training and a lot of the gyms had closed down, so that had a huge impact on mental wellbeing.”
Despite the commitment, Levi’s academic career is not over, because he is keen to undertake a PhD at some stage.
Associate Professor Rachel Forrest, who was also Masterate supervisor to both Levi and Dana, says: “It is important to nurture and grow Māori health research leaders from within communities who have a passion for empowering and inspiring people to be their best. Levi and Dana are an awesome team.”
Levi, Dana and Rachel have all been part of a team of EIT researchers awarded a post-COVID equity grant for Rangahau Māori for a research project that examined the impact of a fitness pod called the DOMYNIS on the Maraenui community.
The team, which also included Maria Pearson of EIT and external researcher, Dr Fiona Cram, received the grant from the Health Research Council (HRC). This initiative, which was supported by the Napier City Council and the Hawke’s Bay Medical Research Foundation, brought three home-grown Kaupapa together – the DOMYNIS, PATU and the MEKE METER.
The ‘DOMYNIS’ – a gym in a container – was the brainchild of Levi and architect Whare Timu.