For Youth Week Aotearoa, Alice Mander interviewed young volunteers to learn about their work, motivations, and observations about volunteering in up and coming generations. Ethan and Alice talk about the ripple effect of volunteering, as well as Ethan’s own journey with Youthline Aotearoa.
Ethan Tauevihi-Kahika is guided in life by a strong set of values. “Values are something that’s important to me, and service is my top value. For me, service means giving your time to others. If I can do that in some way, then I’ll do that, make a positive difference in someone’s life.”
Ethan, who has whakapapa to Niue, Tonga and Denmark, says his volunteering journey started at a young age, watching his mother volunteer her time as a companion to the elderly at local rest homes, and being engaged in his high school’s community service programme. He credits these experiences as building “solid foundations” for his volunteer journey later in life, especially with Youthline. With volunteering being close to his heart, Ethan fully believes in “the kaupapa of volunteering, and the value people get out of it”.
When Ethan was 15 years old, he was faced with the “lose-lose decision” of choosing which parent he wanted to live with. Feeling disappointed and alone at that moment, he gave Youthline a call, and discussed his situation with one of Youthline’s counsellors. “They were just so supportive and made me feel heard, and reassured me that things were going to be OK. That stays with me, even until today.” The experience made him want to become that person for other rangatahi: “For me, it’s really about being that person that was there for me in my time of need, for other people’s time of need.”
In 2019, he began volunteering with Youthline. Starting as a volunteer on the helplines, he eventually moved into paid employment as a member of their triage team, and as a facilitator for training programmes. “The way I see it is that I’m just giving back to my community, and giving back to those people that really need someone in those difficult moments.” Today, he volunteers on Youthline’s Youth Advisory Committee, providing a youth voice into the organisation’s strategic direction. He is also a Board member with Volunteering New Zealand.
Connecting to rangatahi
For Ethan, being a volunteer with lived experience of being a client of Youthline allows him to build a better sense of connection to rangatahi who call him. “I think it reassures people that things are going to be OK as well, because people go through very similar struggles in life, not that everybody knows about it.” As he points out, this sense of connection and empathy is particularly important for Māori and Pasifika youth, who report higher levels of mental distress than Pakeha youth. In 2019 it was found that both Māori (13%) and Pasifika (12%) youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than Pakeha (3%). Being able to talk to people who can relate to you is integral, and Ethan believes that the more Māori and Pasifika rangatahi who are trained to have these difficult conversations, “the better our community will be, it’s like a ripple effect”. To meet this need, Ethan started to raise money to cover the training costs for Māori and Pasifika youth to become Youthline volunteers. “I didn’t want there to be a financial barrier when it comes to doing the training,” he says
Volunteering brings benefits
Ethan believes that the training and skills you attain through volunteering is not only good for the community, but also for the youth themselves. Volunteering, especially through Youthline, offers an avenue to “know about yourself, before helping others”. The benefits of volunteering seem particularly crucial in today’s environment, especially with the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Youthline, the pandemic and its ripple effect has brought issues that were not front of mind to the fore, and youth are bearing the brunt. It’s something Ethan has noticed: “Covid-19 has definitely impacted our young people… Young people were struggling before Covid-19 and after Covid-19, it’s made it worse. Some people don’t even want to go out or go to school because of their social anxiety.”
Volunteering in organisations like Youthline can be an antidote for our youth, both by giving them the skills to help each other but also themselves. However, as Ethan reflected, volunteering today is becoming harder, especially as youth are having to contend with other responsibilities and financial needs. According to a 2021 survey, one third of young people reported that they or their family worry about paying for at least one essential item, and this burden was higher for rangatahi Māori, Pacific and disabled youth. If young people are increasingly worried about putting food on their tables, are the barriers to volunteering simply getting too high to overcome?
Work volunteering balance
Ethan believes it is still possible for youth to balance volunteer opportunities with other responsibilities. Ethan suggests that finding paid employment that utilises the skills you develop in volunteering helps to recognise the value of it. “Volunteering benefits not only the people I talk to on the Helpline, but it also sharpens my tools and skills, which will only benefit my employer.” Ethan explains, “I guess my advice would be to somehow incorporate it into your everyday work.”
Valuing the work of youth volunteers is critical, and also important in encouraging disengaged youth to get involved in their communities. When asked what he would say to the people who think that young people are disengaged with their community, Ethan responded, “Our young people have to see some sort of value in the community for them to be engaged. If they see no value in it, if I see no value in it, then they probably won’t do it.”
Māori and Pasifika youth have been found to be less likely to feel that the community views youth positively. In encouraging youth to engage, perhaps older generations and organisations need to begin by re-evaluating their own attitudes and preconceptions. Ethan agrees that the better question is not whether youth are disengaged with their communities, but why they might be.
Ethan now works as a Kaiarahi Family Court Navigator, supporting families going through the family court process or considering doing so. He gives credit to Youthline and the training he received there for his current position. “That’s definitely helped with my mahi with the Ministry of Justice, utilising those skills everyday.” In sticking closely to his value of serving others, Ethan has been able to leverage his volunteering opportunities in a way which has opened other doors to him. In doing so, he’s able to fulfil his life’s purpose – being there for people when they need someone the most.