Dedicated students awarded Sonny and Mona Riini Memorial Scholarship

Second-year Huarahi Māori students Kamira Henderson and Piripi Cotter discuss future goals as they take on their final year of studies which will see them fluent in te reo Māori.

Huarahi Māori students, Piripi Cotter and Kamira Henderson, recognised as the outstanding recipients of the Sonny and Mōna Riini Memorial Scholarship for 2022

Te Karahipi Whakamaumaharatanga ki a Sonny rāua ko Mōna Riini (the Sonny and Mōna Riini Memorial Scholarship) is worth up to $4,500 each to support two students enrolled full time in Year 2 of a Bachelor of Education in Huarahi Māori specialisation.

Kamira Henderson and Piripi Cotter are recognised as this year's recipients due to their dedication and commitment to learning, with plans to teach within their community.

The scholarship was established in 1998 in recognition of the significant contribution made by Sonny and Mōna Riini to the Faculty of Education and Social Work, and in particular, their support as whakaruruhau of the Huarahi Māori Specialisation of the Bachelor of Education programme.

Kamira (Ngāti Whātua, Te Rarawa) says this scholarship will further provide a way to give back to her whānau, community, hapū, and iwi.

"So many doors have opened within my iwi ever since I started this journey and I’m looking forward to giving back."

It wasn't always a pathway that was seen as successful within her family, but Kamira says the privileges have changed for her generation.

"I didn't grow up with the language, but I've always been familiar with certain practices around tīkanga and I had a lot to do with my marae. But being brought up by the generation that lost that ability to learn and speak the reo, it seemed as if Māori wasn't an option to lead us into a successful pathway. 

"When I decided to take on Huarahi Māori at the University of Auckland, some people would ask if I'm sure about this. But now they've all seen how much of a positive influence it's had on my whānau."

Kamira is a mother of four  and says having her first born planted the seed of deepening her connection to Te Ao Māori. She's a Kaiāwhina at their full immersion school, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngaringomatariki.

"I'm so different to who I was before, now that I've connected more to my Māoritanga. My husband [who is fluent in te reo Māori] has seen how much has shifted within me too."

Kamira intends to give back to her local community by opening pathways to learning te reo Māori.

"I want people to know that if there is a passion within you to learn it, you can absolutely do it. You don’t have to follow a societal structure and it doesn't matter how old you are."

There's a massive gap in areas for special needs children, particularly neurodivergent children. I'll be looking at exploring how I can fill that gap.

Piripi Cotter, Sonny and Mōna Riini Memorial Scholarship recipient Faculty of Education and Social Work

Piripi Cotter (Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga) father of three, shares a similar journey. His focus is to weave te reo Māori into supporting neurodivergent children, alongside his wife who is also earning her degree in early childhood education.

"When my eldest son was born, my wife and I decided together that we'd like our kids to grow up with te reo. We really jumped into it, but at the time I had a flooring business and got injured. I had back surgery and was told I couldn’t go back to physical work anymore. Given that te reo Māori was a priority of mine, it led me to here," he says.

"We're both passionate about teaching kids, her focus is with the younger generation and mine is the older.

"I'm looking forward to utilising what I've learned. I think if I had this knowledge at the start of my parenting journey, life would be a lot different."

He says there's a massive gap in areas for special needs children, particularly neurodivergent children.

"I'll be looking at exploring how I can fill that gap."

For Piripi, it's personal. He understands how Te Ao Māori can hold space for neurodivergent kids, as he's seen it with one of his own.

"My kids are in rumaki immersion in their kura. The kura really understands our boy. For example, he was drawing on the walls which isn’t allowed. The method to get him to stop was personifying the whare. We'd say, "The whare cries when you draw on it," and in Te Ao Māori there's a natural respect for our environment and it's a concept that kids can understand."

University of Auckland director of Māori Medium Education, Hemi Dale, says Kamira and Piripi "represent the essence" of The Sonny and Mona Riini Memorial Scholarships.

"Namely a commitment to te reo Māori and Te Ao Māori and a commitment to hard work and to excellence in their learning, both on-campus and while on practicum. I look forward to their future contributions to education in Aotearoa."

The scholarship is funded by the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

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