Tracy-Lee Kawana is living her dream – studying Conservation Level 4 – gaining knowledge to provide a better life for her son and being able to give back to her iwi, Rangitāne and Ngāti Kahungunu.
After spending 15 years living abroad, Tracy-Lee arrived home burnt out. "I was just living for work and money. I was deep in the rat race and didn't have a sense of freedom for myself."
"I returned to Aotearoa and realised there was just so much about home that I didn't know. Combined with my love of the outdoors and my desire to find something that fuels me as a positive example for my four-year-old son, I knew studying conservation would be the right move."
"I want him [her son] to have the same opportunities as I did as a child but more.”
Tracy-Lee said studying conservation has been 'eye-opening yet rewarding'.
"I've learnt stuff that has helped me in my overall health and outlook in life. Being back in the forest has helped me to release emotional and physical issues because I am free. I'm not living to work I’m working towards a different living. I absolutely love getting up every day and coming here, getting outside and learning not just about the outdoors but the Mātauranga Māori that is part of it all, which is my roots, my heritage. I'm home and learning this stuff that will contribute to not only my future but that of my son."
"I am incredibly blessed to be a trustee to a patch of native bush near the coast called Okautete Reserve, which has the last of the remaining stand of kahikatea population in the North Island. This land was home to my tīpuna Nga Pine, whose mauri is found here, within reach of Te Maipi Maunga and the Kaiwhata awa Everything I learn from here will go straight back into local whenua. To help in its growth for our future."
Reflecting on the course, Tracy-Lee lit up.
"Mātua Warren has given me an in-depth look at Matauranga Māori again and unleashed a passion for learning. While Mātua Jim is just... incredible. He has this aura, this light. Nothing will stop him from doing what he loves. He has one leg and seriously inspires me every day. If he can do it, then why can't I, you know?"
"They’re both respected and admired for their knowledge, but they get down on our level and make us all feel like they're just our friends, that we can talk to them. They talk with us, not at us. I've never felt that way about any kaiako.”
For others considering taking up the New Zealand Certificate in Conservation, "give it a go. I'm a 35-year-old mother continuing to learn. If I can do it, you can do it!"
The New Zealand Certificate in Conservation (Operations) Level 4 is unique: Graduates learn to assess an environment, whether a wetland, forest or dune area, identify native weeds and pests, and create a plan to remove them. They learn mātauranga Māori, weed identification and removal, pest control, construction of fences, traps, chainsaw use and maintenance, and LUV (light utility vehicle) handling. Ākonga spend two days at UCOL Wairarapa and the rest at either Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, farmland, or reserves.