Ignite Sport’s Fusion and Oho Ake programmes help give young women a fresh start.
In some ways, the two Ignite Sport Trust (Ignite) programmes that received funding support from Sport New Zealand’s Young Women’s Activation Fund (YWAF) could hardly be more different.
Ignite was founded in 2001 with the goal of inspiring young people and impacting communities through sport. Fusion provides three-day programmes for young female former refugees seeking to find their feet in New Zealand, while dealing with the pressures of family commitments and challenges such as language barriers. Ignite’s Oho Ake programme, on the other hand, supports young people who are facing challenges to their wellbeing, providing sustained support for a period of up to five years.
The programmes may have different target groups, different formats and different timeframes, however the goal of both is identical – to build confidence and resilience and, most importantly, to provide hope.
“Young people become young adults who become adults,” says Ignite’s Allie Miles.
“If they have hope for their future our collective future is hopeful. If they know how to lean into their dreams our collective dreams reach new heights. If they learn how to try new things, be uncomfortable in new environments, we as a collective have better resilience. If our young people have a strong sense of hauora our collective hauora is strong.”
Fusion has evolved from primarily delivering annual three-day programmes for young female former refugees, into a regular school-based programme and an afterschool youth space - Fusion+.
Fusion participants, who are connected to the programme through several partner organisations such as schools, the Red Cross and ChangeMakers, now meet three to four times a term, once afterschool fortnightly, and take day trips during the holidays. The programmes feature sports, recreational activities, personal development and an introduction to opportunities in their community.
Thanks to assistance from the YWAF, Fusion was able to deliver 17 programmes to 140 participants. Delivered in the wider Wellington region and Palmerston North initially, Fusion is now expanding into Masterton.
“Young people become young adults who become adults. If they have hope for their future our collective future is hopeful.”
Oho Ake, which can be understood as ‘to awaken and rise up’, was first run in 2013 at Porirua College for a group of young men. By providing positive mentoring, support and adventure-based learning experiences, the programme helps develop critical life skills and tools at a vulnerable time in participants’ lives.
YWAF funding allowed the programme to expand to include young women (previously it was male-only), underpinning the delivery of 23 ‘journeys’ by 281 people.
Young people participating in the Oho Ake programme may face barriers such as, mental health challenges, involvement in or exposure to gang life, drug and alcohol use, experiences with whānau who are or have been absent, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, actions that lead to police and youth justice involvement and the effects of colonisation and racism.
After being involved in the programme, participants report seeing new possibilities for their lives, feeling understood, having fun and having the time and space to breathe and just be themselves.
“When I first started I was just a young troublemaker who looked for drama and this crew made me realise that you’re young and you need to have fun,” said a participant.
A powerful insight from an assistant principal discussing the growth of five Year 13 graduates of the Oho Ake programme could just as easily apply to the growth seen in the young women of Fusion.
Addressing the students directly, he said: “I have watched you grow over the last few years into fine young wāhine who have amazing talents and you are ready (without a doubt) to take on the next steps in your journey. While you may not have gained the academic success that you would have liked, remove your anxiety about this as learning from books is only a small part of life. The true success of a person is a life well lived, so be settled, as you are most definitely ready for the challenge.”
At a Glance
What was the need or problem in the community?
Young former refugees often have to take on a more adult role in the family due to their better English. This can mean they are taken out of school to serve as the family translator. This extra responsibility accelerates the ‘growing-up’ process and can leave little room for the young people to be young. Few programmes exist for young former refugees in Aotearoa, with those that do often focusing on children and families and employment and language-based needs. There is often nothing focusing on fun, community, and wellbeing.
Young women who faced significant challenges in life to the degree that their wellbeing is impacted negatively.
What challenges or barriers existed and how were they overcome?
Initial engagement is a challenge, and getting young people through the door can be difficult, especially when working through other organisations to make the contact. In-school programmes allow for smoother initial engagement and the ability to meet and support a greater number of young people.
Border closures due to COVID-19 meant less than half the usual refugee resettlements have occurred since 2019, impacting participant numbers.
Participants may experience barriers such as mental health challenges, involvement in or exposure to gang life, drug and alcohol use, experiences with whānau who are or have been absent, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, actions that lead to police and youth justice involvement and the effects of colonisation and racism.
Collectively, these challenges can sometimes limit the ability for young people to simply connect in a safe space.
What were the key success factors – and were they driven by an innovative approach?
Fusion adopted a co-design principle, with young women deciding what activities they’d like to try and when. Sometimes when it came to participating in an activity, they might have changed their minds, felt shy or simply not enjoyed it. Ignite staff learned to debrief the opportunities with young women, ask if they enjoyed it, and try something new next time if they didn’t. A key insight was that fun needed to be at the forefront of everything.
Oho Ake was able to create spaces for young people to be themselves. Many who participated in the programme remained at school until Year 13 – an outcome that had once seemed unlikely.
What outcomes were achieved?
Oho Ake and Fusion have both supported young people making a fresh start in their lives. Participants formed meaningful relationships with trusted adults, enjoyed uplifting experiences and discovered a space to simply be.
What comes next?
Ignite has learned the importance of young people’s Oho Ake and Fusion journeys continuing past the end of high school. It is trialling a Fusion+ Young Adults’ group to specifically engage with young women in a way that is flexible with their availability, life stage and needs. These young adults are also encouraged to remain connected with the wider Fusion whānau as leaders and mentors for the younger members of the group.
Fusion has started a programme in a new school and added a follow-up programme day in Palmerston North.
Oho Ake has expanded into a new school and is also reaching out to different age ranges of young people.
Ignite Sport is in it for the long haul. It is committed to keeping the Fusion and Oho Ake programmes going so it can continue to build relationships with young people and support them on their journeys to becoming young adults. Ignite Sport’s ultimate dream is to be in every intermediate and high school in the country. Find out more: www.ignitesport.org.nz/.