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17 young people who will change your perception of West Auckland

1. “A kid was drowning…” – Michael, 19

“And the lifeguard was just staring at him, and he chucked the floatie at him and asked if he was all good. He was obviously like, struggling and stuff. And I saw it, so I swam over, and I saved him. And I felt really good.”

2. “We go into rest homes every weekend and we volunteer at the decile one primary school.” – Latayvia, 17

“Sorry, I tear up thinking about them, I love it, yeah. It’s awesome. I love West Auckland. Like straight up.”

3. “My favourite thing about living in West Auckland is just the vibe.” – Robert, 19

“Everyone’s really happy and it’s just calm most of the time. I reckon that just keeps everyone at peace.”

4. “There was this one kid, every day I would get to school and he’d be waiting there.” – Siua, 16

“He’d just follow me to my classroom, consistently just calling out ‘fat’, ‘faggot’ – the normal fat kid insults. I just got overwhelmed. The teachers just didn’t care. It completely ruined my self-esteem.”

5. “Its important to remember no matter who you are, you always have a future and it will get better.” – Jenelle, 16

“Find someone who can be there for you and help you see a future. The amount of young people suffering with depression and anxiety and self esteem issues is so common it’s crazy. About four of my closest friends have had serious suicidal thoughts and I suffered and still suffer with anxiety and self esteem issues. I wish more people knew they weren’t alone.”

6. “I just use singing to express my feelings.” – Siaosi, 17

“Cause God gave me a talent and I’m not gonna waste it. I’ve learned that everywhere you go you should show everyone respect.”

7. “My parents said, “Is dance gonna get you to where you wanna go?”. And I said “Maybe, yeah. Maybe it is.” – Karen, 16 

“But I couldn’t really fight over it so I left home. There’s somewhere where I always go every time I feel upset, and I went there and I just started playing music on my phone, and it just came to me. I just started to dance and just let out my anger.”

8. “He used to go to our school. He got into a fight after training.”  – Raphaela, 15

“I was on my way home from basketball and someone punched him in the throat, and he died. It affected me in a really harsh way cause he was one of my friends and we were there. He always helped me out during school. After he left it’s just hard, cause there’s no one else like that.”

9. “My mum and dad have completely affected my life.” – Emily, 13

“It’s just such an inspiration from both of them through what they do every day, and how they treat people. It’s just really good.”

10. “Talking about depression, anxiety, mental illness…” – Liss, 17

“I think that we’re becoming more open as a society about this kind of thing. Open up and talk to someone. There’s gonna be someone out there who would inspire you or help you get through whatever you’re going through.”

11. “Being a teenager, a lot of us like to drink at such a young age.” – Amio, 16

“Maybe some people do wanna be older real fast. So just take it slow through life and enjoy every step you take.”

12. “I bullied people cause I was that angry.” – Porsche, 17

“I didn’t know what else to take my anger out on. I take full responsibility for what I’ve done. I know what I did wasn’t right, and I’m sorry if I put you in a hard life back then. I live for life. I live for my life. I live for everybody who’s helped me to the point of where I am now, and is still helping me now.”

13.“My grandfather is my role model.” – John, 17

“I guess he’s just the ideal male person. He’s kinda like a teacher to me. He really values honesty, you know, cause nothing positive will come from lying.” 

14. “I rap about youth, going out, coming of age, you know.” – Alex, 16

“I speak for a lot of young people. Kids from West Auckland in particular. I feel that we’re put under a lot of pressure as we slowly start to enter the real world. The idea that we’re faced with unnecessary pressure and not many know how to deal with it straight away. It takes time.”

15. “I see friendship as like a tree.” – Ethan, 18

“You have the leaves of the tree which are like seasonal friends. They’ll come and go. And then you’ve also got the branches, and those are a little bit stronger friends, but again they can still snap away and the tree will survive. And then there’s – and you’ll only have three or four of these in your life – and those are the roots. Without the roots the tree will die. And those are the friends that mean everything. When you find those roots, you hold on to them.”

16. “Brotherhood. Take care of each other and look out for one another.” – Dhynzel, 14

“When I didn’t have enough money, one of the boys gave me money. Took care of me. Stick with each other no matter what. Even through tough times. Stay strong.”

17. “When I was in high school, there were a lot of things going down with young people.” – Beth, 18

“There were a lot of youth suicides and a lot of incidents that really could have been prevented, and I thought to myself, everyone’s going through so much hurt after all that’s happened, and I feel like no one’s doing anything about it. And then I thought, wait – I could do something about it. So, I’m studying a Diploma of Youth and Community Studies. It’s something really positive, having a young person who’s just so lost find some form of belonging with you.”

These portraits are part of The Other Side, a West Auckland street photography collection. Led by two youth photographers, Matt Billington (16) and Jem King (17), the project aims to challenge assumptions about young people in West Auckland. Everyone has a story to tell. And in hearing each other’s stories, how we see and treat others can change for the better.

Matt & Jem have collected over 80 portraits and stories, exhibiting them online at Live For Tomorrow and in print and Zeal’s West Auckland youth development centre.