Kararaina Haami – known as Pou to her friends and family – likes to “kick in the background”. Although she’s not one for the limelight, her achievements are getting her noticed.
Working on the land was always what Pou wanted to do. She grew up around the industry helping out her Koro (grandfather) who ran a shearing gang and jumping in the truck with her dad who drives stock trucks.
“Growing up and helping Koko and seeing my dad work was what really inspired me to get into farming.”
Getting a city job wasn’t ever really anything she was interested in.
“I always knew I wanted to get into farming, just figuring out how took me a while.”
Pou, 21, lived with her parents in Marton and says she was living a pretty undesirable life. With no direction and no clear plan in sight for her farming ambitions she spent her days at home doing drugs and “not much else”.
Then she found out about the Awhiwhenua farm school – a joint initiative between Atihau Whanganui Incorporation (AWHI) and Land Based Training (LBT) which sees young shepherds given the opportunity to study towards their New Zealand certificate in agriculture level 3 on one of the AWHI-owned farms. The course has a mix of classroom teaching, which is run out of the local Nga Mokai Marae with LBT trainer Derek Priest, and on-the-job teaching at Te Pa station in Ohakune.
‘Getting employment in that second year was great. A lot of other cadets weren’t able to. But to get it you really have to work hard for it. It gives you something to aim for.’
Being able to study farming and get a foot in the door as well as getting the chance to learn about her heritage appealed to Pou. She applied for the course, got in and begun her move to Ohakune. Aside from the initial shock of the harsher winters Pou took to the training course like a duck to water. The zero-tolerance policy on drugs is heavily enforced when cadets first start, something Pou is extremely grateful for as it helped her be more focused on some of the tough course content.
“I used to feel like my mind was quite fogged, now I think a lot clearer and feel better in myself. Having a new direction in life has changed things a lot. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Pou’s work ethic and natural affinity for farming was quick to show its head, in particularly her natural ability in stock work.
She recalls one day where a shepherd was moving sheep and had a break from the mob. Sheep were running up the road and on noticing this, Pou leapt to her feet and bolted through the bush and up the hill to cut them off, all while her fellow cadets sat and wondered why she was running.
“It was the longest run of my life. I just saw something needed doing and did it.”
Pou started the cadetship as a “rough diamond” and came out the other side with a new sense of purpose and direction. Her “head-down, bum-up” attitude towards course work and practical work got her noticed and as such, she was offered a job in her second year on one of the AWHI farms. Hers was the first year the opportunity wasavailable.
“Getting employment in that second year was great. A lot of other cadets weren’t able to. But to get it you really have to work hard for it. It gives you something to aim for.”
Now, a year later, she has started work on her level 4 certificate and is enjoying her job as junior shepherd. Based on AWHI’s Te Pa station, Pou also works for the neighbouring AWHI farm, Ohutu. To top off her responsibilities she was also selected to be live-in mentor to the new round of level 3 students for 2017.
This year’s level 3 course is a residential-based programme. The six cadets will move into the purpose-built residential facility for their year of study. Pou will join them as a mentor. When she first started, cadets were picked up and brought to the farm each day for lessons and practical work. Half way through they decided they all wanted to be living on the farm.
“Being in the farm environment just made things easier and more realistic. Back home it was easy to slip back into old habits.”
This is a key reason why AWHI took the next step to building the residential facility to provide realistic and full immersion training for the cadets.
Robyn Matthews, field officer at LBT says they were keen to use Pou as a mentor because of her brilliant back story.
“She’s not afraid to open up and tell them where she made mistakes and the realities of things. She’s a really good example that it doesn’t matter what background you come from – this is still an option and a pathway. Doesn’t matter where you start from, “Robyn says.
Despite the accolades from the team at LBT and those who worked and trained with her, she remains quiet about her achievements.
“I’m one of those people that just likes to get on with the job and kick in the background. I just want to do my job well and do what I enjoy.”
It’s not all fun and games though. Level 4 is proving to be a big step up with more technical and business-based topics on farming being covered. Calculating feed budgets and writing farm reports, however, is helping set her up for a future as a head shepherd or stock manager.
Working and learning at the same time seems to be the winning combination for Pou. What she learns in the classroom she gets to put into practise the next day.
The full time shepherds and other staff who work on the properties are like extra tutors helping the students understand the practical implications of what they learn.
“Derek is the man. He’s so passionate about it and he’s the one that pushes us to do our best. He puts 120% into teaching it and it makes you want to put 120% back. If you have a good teacher you don’t want to waste their time.”
Most of Pou’s day is spent doing stock work and any other jobs the shepherds need help with. This gives her a prime opportunity to do her favourite thing. Work with dogs.
“I really enjoy working with the dogs. I’d love to be able to help teach the new cadets that side of things. I’m aiming to get into dog trials but we will see how it goes.”
Pou aims to complete her level 5 in the future and after that is keen to look at doing a university degree. At this stage she doesn’t see farm ownership in future, she much prefers to be working on the land and with her dogs rather than being in an office, but she says her options are endless now, as is her drive to succeed.
“You own it, you drive it. You get out what you put in. Two years ago I wouldn’t have seen myself in the position I am today. Getting the cadetship was the best thing that has ever happened to me.”