Skip to main content

New Zealand Defence Force supports youth programmes in Rarotonga

Members of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) Youth Development Unit (YDU) have returned from a rewarding deployment aimed at helping the Cook Islands Police and Prison and Probation Services support vulnerable Pasifika youth.

01 May, 2024

During the two-week training programme, four NZDF personnel, a YDU clinical psychologist and three military instructors ran an ‘Introduction to Youth Development’ course, before they supported Police to deliver a five-day ‘Blue Light’ programme which was attended by 25 Cook Islands youth on Aitutaki.

The NZDF provided similar support prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently in December 2023.

The training assisted Cook Islands agencies in the psychological aspects of working with young people and addressing social issues caused by a lack of motivation, education, life skills, values and effective role models.

The team covered topics including behavioural psychology, mental health and wellbeing, understanding and supporting learning difficulties, and how to administer and deliver a youth development programme.

Practical aspects then covered situational awareness, incident control and de-escalation, as well as drill, physical training and leadership tasks.

Petty Officer Youth Development Specialist Taelar Lepou was the contingent’s YDU Training Sergeant, and said the training was well received.

“We were able to show the benefits of using the ‘military way’ when working with young people. By this we mean structure and routine, teamwork and believing that every young person can succeed.

“Having the psychologist, Ricki Tan, there really helped with understanding the ‘why’ of what we do. And our two other instructors - Staff Sergeant Javan Mataia and Corporal Liam Whareaitu - added value in the way they instructed staff on the course and in their interactions when leading young people.”

Petty Officer Lepou’s father was born in Rarotonga, giving the deployment extra significance for her.

“He comes from Ma’ukei, a small island that makes up part of Rarotonga. So it was an extra humbling experience to come here and give back.

“I wish we had more time. They were wanting more, which shows the positive working relationship we’ve established.”

YDU Training and Engagement Manager Tua Atkinson said the courses enhanced New Zealand’s standing as a responsive security partner to the Cook Islands, and provided a valued contribution to their resilience, well-being and social outcomes.

Inspector Maevarangi Kirikava of the Cook Islands Police said past programmes have had positive feedback from the community and this one was no different.

“The community were delighted to see New Zealand and Cook Islands service people in uniform, and there were positive comments about the return of the NZDF to the programme,” said Inspector Kirikava. 

“We are thankful the team were able to run an induction course for trainers to help boost our numbers; when we started we had eight trainers but this had been reduced to three. During their time here, 10 members of the Police and Corrective Service officers were trained.

“We saw 25 participants graduate from the Blue Light course in the presence of their family, the mayor and Island Council members.”