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Te Awhina’s story

May 13, 2024

Te Reo Māori teacher | Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Maniapoto, Te Arawa
“I started to build more meaningful relationships because I could handle my own financial responsibility – I didn’t feel like I was a burden.”Te Awhina

“I was in a huge amount of debt, living pay cheque to pay cheque, feeling stressed and anxious about the phone calls that I was ignoring – multiple calls a day from people wanting money that I didn’t have.

I couldn’t dream in terms of my career. I was working in a job that was available instantly, rather than taking the time to do something that I love. It impacted my mental health hugely. We spend so much time at work, so I wasn’t enjoying life.

I didn’t know that I was hostage – it’s all I’d ever known: “You go to school, you grow up, you get a job. That’s you for the rest of your life; you just stay there.” I was like a hamster on a wheel.

Not having enough petrol to get to work – that was a huge thing I was constantly worried about. Food was a thing, but I would get food grants. That was a huge blessing, but with that came a lot of shame and embarrassment. In winter I had power on because I’d ask my parents for money. We’d have a family meeting, and then they’d pay my power, rent, and missed car payments… They bailed me out on probably a three-monthly cycle.

I was scared to call CAP. Fearful of turning around and taking a look at the monster I
had created. It really felt like it was chasing me. To stop and turn around and look at it – that was not a good feeling.

I’m an emotional girl. I cried straight away. I remember thinking, Why are they praying
for me?”
That was the point of difference… I felt like God was reaching out to me in that moment through those people.

I remember thinking, “Don’t you just give me my budget and I go on my merry way? Why do they care?” They made me feel like I wasn’t a number, like I was the most important person in the organisation at the time. It was a “let go and let God” moment throughout the whole process.

At the first CAP visit I was like a scared little stray kitten, but my ‘sister’ Claudia, already debt free through CAP, was with me. The Debt Coach was lovely. She shared a Pacific Island family’s Debt Help story. I was like, “That’s me. Those are my people. I resonate with that.”

It was a simple process. It felt like, “All you have to focus on, Te Awhina, is one foot in
front of the other, and we’ll carry the rest.” I felt freedom instantly.

The budget blew my mind.
I remember CAP saying, “You pay yourself first, then you pay your bills…” whereas I’d always had the mindset “Pay all your bills, then good luck, pray for the rest of the fortnight.”

I found that I had more than enough money, which reinforced my sense of freedom. What I saw in my bank account was mine to manage, and I only had to feed myself and get around.

The debt collectors stopped instantly. That was like, “Wow.” People who were actually trying to contact me were able to get through because I started answering the phone again. I settled down as a person. I started to build more meaningful relationships because I could handle my own financial responsibility – I didn’t feel like I was a burden. I have quality friendships now. Rather than 100 acquaintances, I’ve got 10 solid, amazing friends.

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I remember the CAP Debt Coach sending messages to say, Congratulations. You’ve been making consistent payments…” She highlighted successes, celebrated me.

I was starting to get on solid ground. I left my job where I was unhappy. This was a God moment. The day that I resigned, a friend messaged: “What are you doing? I’ve got a job opening up. Can you start next week?” That job was teaching Te Reo Māori.

Fast-forward to last year… I am now teaching Te Reo Māori with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and Kapa Haka to schools. I spend all my waking hours working on my passion and being paid to do it. Living the dream, working in an industry with people who helped me to find a sense of who I am, both as a person and as a Māori. June 10, 2023, I received my moko kauae (traditional tattoo). That was huge for me.

If I think about it, the ship started changing course way back when I started working with CAP, which is why I want to share this story.

On this journey I’ve found my relationship with God, and it’s a personal relationship for me. I may not go to church every Sunday, but I do believe that the way that I carry myself every day is a representation of God and what I believe in. I believe He is working through me to help others.

It may seem small to CAP supporters to give, however many dollars that they’re giving, but they’re changing people’s lives – more specifically, my life. I’d like to personally thank these people with my everything – and God. God brings people into your life to make these changes and say, “I love you. These are people to remind you that I’m here for you.”

Thank you isn’t enough. I would love supporters to know that they set me free from my cycle. It allowed me to dream, and to literally be living a life that I couldn’t even dream of. That was in only a few years – it’s unreal, the impact that had. They really were the pebble in the lake – the ripple effect was possibly far beyond anything they could have imagined.

Fast forward to the day I got that email to say “You’ve got less than $500 left to pay” … then getting the phone call to say, “You’ve paid everything except for this one debt, which we think you can manage yourself.” That was the freakout, pinch-myself moment.

The way that I manage finances is so different now. Pre-CAP, I was borrowing from tomorrow to pay for today. Now, I’m taking from today and giving to tomorrow.

Te Awhina & Ilivasi’s wedding in Fiji

I always wanted to travel, but I thought, “That’s not for you, girlfriend. Get back on your hamster wheel and get to work.” This year, though, my husband and I saved for our wedding in Fiji, so got to meet his family. We had a celebration there, and we had that all paid months before.

Since working with CAP, I’ve not asked Mum and Dad for a single dollar. We’re thinking of others now, and blessing others financially – because I remember what it feels like to come to Christmas and you’ve only got two dollars.

I think about Dad, because he kept saying, “Do you need money? We’re here if you need anything.” Now I’m like, “No, we’re good. Actually, let me get you two dinner. You’ve done so much for us.”

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