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Street youth worker Philip Faresa: A new kind of role model

This article first appeared on the Unitec website. Check it out here!

“A lot of our young people are disconnected, but a bad action doesn’t make them a bad person,” says Philip Faresa, who is studying the Bachelor of Health and Social Development (BHSD) at Unitec, majoring in Youth Development.

“Growing up is a learning process,” he adds. “Sometimes young people will be going through a lot, with no school support, no family support, and they might just need somebody to talk to.”

While studying, Philip is working at Zeal, a not-for-profit New Zealand youth organisation based in West Auckland that aims to “help young kiwis discover, express and develop their unique creativity”.

More specifically, he’s working (both as part of his placement, and as an employee) on Zeal’s Detached Youth project, which was set up after a high-profile murder in Henderson in which an Auckland dairy owner was killed and a 14-year-old boy sentenced for manslaughter.

Philip’s role involves hitting the streets of Henderson, and striking up conversations with young people who might have nowhere to go and nothing to do. “It’s like being a big brother figure on the streets,” he says. Sometimes people just need an ear, he says, positive encouragement, perhaps advice on what support services they can access that might help them better their employment and educational opportunities.

The Detached Youth project was initially piloted in Henderson, but has since extended to include other West Auckland suburbs; Glen Eden, New Lynn and Ranui. Levi Hohua, who manages the project, says it’s about talking to young people in West Auckland where they feel most at home, “which is pretty much the streets” of West Auckland.

“The key to changing young people’s lives is having a positive relationship with them,” he says. “The kids that we work with have never had much positive in their life… not had a mum, not had a dad, not had a stable home. So we’re there to be a positive influence. It’s about creating that type of relationship with our young people. Sometimes it just takes an adult to say, ‘I care about you, let’s talk, let’s go and get lunch’ … that sort of thing can change a life.”

Philip is a natural born youth worker, he says. “He’s very passionate about young people, he knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. His character attracts people, especially young people — he’s funny, he’s gentle, he’s nice. I think he’s a really awesome youth worker and he’s going to go far.”

Philip knows how easy it is for a young person to lose their way. There was a time in his teenage years when he was living in Hastings, when he was stealing, not getting on well with his family, thinking of joining a gang. “When I moved from Hastings to Auckland, I thought I need to change who I am to better my future. I thought if I could do that, maybe I could influence others to do the same.”

“It’s about giving back to my community,” he says, of his role as a youth worker. “I want to help our young people get a second chance in life, because they deserve better. They often just need somebody to support them, and to show them different ways to live a life, a good healthy life.”

It’s not always easy. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, but the people I’m working with understand I’m only here to guide them to where they want to be, and I won’t force them. Sometimes you just need to let them talk. And then you can build on that relationship, and suggest where they can get some of the support they might need.”

But what exactly is a youth worker, and how is it different from a social worker? It may still be perceived as a fairly niche area agrees Mark Barnard, lecturer in Youth Development, Unitec. “But it focuses on a fairly distinct and specific phase of human development.”

After all, people who want to become a teacher are likely to be attracted to particular age groups, and will need to get the appropriate qualifications to match. “Not many tertiary educators would profess to have the appropriate skills to teach early childhood. Likewise in the human services there are diverse needs based on people’s age and stage of life.”

For those who have a passion to make a difference for young people, studying Youth Development provides a blueprint for how to get there. “Social workers provide a crucial role to play in terms of ensuring people’s statutory rights and responsibilities are upheld. Youth workers will have an eye on these things, but most firmly, their gaze will be upon the young people they work with. It’s about developing quality relationships with them and seeking to strengthen key connections as they do, helping people become the best versions of themselves.”

As people specifically qualified in Youth Development are still a rare breed in New Zealand, they can be confident of getting a job, notes Daniel Stamp, academic leader, BHSD. “Organisations are crying out for people with that kind of qualification and we offer one of the few Youth Development programmes around.”

Asked if he thinks he’s yet made a difference in people’s lives, Philip is modest, but he certainly intends to. “I’m building upon work with Zeal and will keep doing that. I’ll say I’m developing, but I have years to learn as a youth worker.”

This article first appeared on the Unitec website. Check it out here, and sign up to our monthly newsletter to keep up to date with all things Zeal.