ASK DAWN MITAI PEHI HER ADVICE TO YOUNG Māori WOMEN AND
SHE’LL SUM IT UP IN FOUR WORDS – YOU CAN DO IT!
Dawn is the current Principal of Turakina Māori Girls' College
and thinks her world view and philosophy comes from her upbringing
in Minginui, a small village in Te Urewera.
“I was taught not to complain, but to get out and do it;
to actively seek out and seize opportunities. I s’pose
we all had to think that way coming from a small rural settlement
and having to move to the big smoke for employment. Nothing
was ever easy or laid out on a plate for us.”
And it is this “can do” attitude plus the skill
of finding and seizing opportunities that she is working on
instilling in her pupils at Turakina.
In fact, opportunities for her kids have increased dramatically
since Dawn has been in charge: from establishing the school
as a lead technology school amongst the Māori boarding schools,
to raising funds to build their $1 M computer suite, to sending
students to participate in a United Nations run global youth
leadership forum, to developing a cultural and educational exchange
between Turakina, Mana
Tamariki (Palmerston North) and Aboriginal students from the
Australian outback, Dawn has been successful at opening, and
keeping open doors for her pupils.
“When I first came to Turakina, isolation was our biggest
issue. We were a small school stuck out on the edge of Marton,
a rural township. It was difficult to employ staff in key
subject areas, and we could only offer a very basic curriculum.”
This didn’t stop Dawn from finding a solution however.
At that time the Ministry was first mooting the idea of piloting
educational delivery between rural schools through videoconferencing.
“I heard about it and thought - this is just right for
us and our situation. So I fought hard with the Ministry to
get Turakina involved. Some might say that I was quite stroppy.”
Laurence Zwimpfer, who manages of the Ministry of Education’s
videoconferencing project in Māori boarding schools begs
to differ. “Dawn immediately saw what this could do
for Turakina. She was focused and determined to get the best
for her girls. And this really sums up her approach –
she’s a doer and a real go-getter!”
As well as broadening the curriculum via videoconferencing,
which has helped grow the roll, Dawn has also worked on improving
“When I came to Turakina there was a culture of managing
the students within the gates. But I have been quite keen on
allowing the girls here more freedom to leave the school and
get out and about while building responsibility.”
This has meant buying a bus, finding local drivers, and developing
trust and good communication channels between the hostel and
“I am quite pleased with the progress we’ve made.”
“We have actually increased contact with the wider community.”
So, where to next for Turakina?
“The next big project is the establishment of a multi
purpose building or gym for the girls. At the moment, I am looking
around for investors and have heard plenty of nos.”
Don’t expect this is stop Dawn however. In her vocabulary,
no means looking for opportunity elsewhere.