14 Jan 2021

New Zealander Local Heroes
New Zealander Local Heroes

The Kiwibank Local Hero Award - Te Pou Toko o te Tau recognises everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local hapori - communities over the past year. This award acknowledges the enormous contribution, sacrifice and commitment of Kiwi who have selflessly worked to make their local hapori a better place.

Meet our 10 semi-finalists.

Aigagalefili (Fili) Fepulea'i-Tapua'i


At just 17 years old, Aigagalefili (Fili) Fepulea'i-Tapua'i already has many strings to her bow: she is head girl of Aorere College in Papatoetoe, a published poet and renowned orator, and a passionate and determined climate activist. She is a co-founder of 4 Tha Kulture, an indigenous environmental activist group that worked alongside the School Strike for Climate in 2019, and in 2020 has petitioned the government for a green response to Covid-19 that would prioritise a renewable economy and meaningful partnerships with communities, tangata whenua and Pasifika. The effects of Covid-19 have exacerbated existing inequalities in our society, and Fili has been vocal about the realities of this, explaining to the media that hundreds of students sacrifice their schooling in order to seek employment and help support their families and that the situation is only worsening. In 2019 Fili won the Storytellers New Zealand High School Public Speaking competition, and in 2020 was selected as the New Zealand representative at the Global Young Leaders Conference in New York.

Amal Abdullahi


After the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, Otago University student Amal Abdullahi was happy to hear conversations about racism taking place around her. However, she was concerned that within a short time, they would fade away and no real change would occur. So, she approached Dunedin’s OAR FM about creating her own radio show, Headscarves and Good Yarns, which would be a forum for conversations about race and diversity in New Zealand. On the show, Amal talks to community leaders, as well as anyone who considers themselves an outsider and wants to share their story. The guests are given a safe and empowering platform where they can share and own their stories and voices, and listeners of the podcast gain incredibly valuable insight into experiences of racism by individuals and groups in Aotearoa. Amal also volunteers for the Dunedin Multi-Ethnic Council and works in international student mental health for Silverline, which won the Ministry of Health Youth Volunteer Award in 2019.

Carolyn Press-McKenzie


When Carolyn Press-McKenzie and her husband Jim bought a 13-acre property in Kaitoke, Upper Hutt, to run as an animal shelter, they discovered that most instances of animal neglect or mistreatment were not a result of malice or cruelty, but rather a lack of knowledge. So Carolyn realised that to improve animal’s lives, she would need to work on education as well as rescue, and in 2008, HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) was born. Since then the organisation has saved thousands of animals’ lives. HUHA runs two animal sanctuaries around Wellington, as well as three fundraising shops. Carolyn also campaigns to end animal abuse in its various forms (medical testing, battery farming, backyard puppy breeding) and completes large-scale animal rescue missions during natural disasters. In the summer of 2019 in response to the Nelson fires, Carolyn and her team built a temporary emergency evacuation shelter for pets and livestock. They cared for 957 displaced animals until it was safe for them to return home. In the Summer of 2020 Carolyn lead a team of tradesmen and veterinary professionals to help our neighbours in Australia during the devastating bush fires. They erected three veterinary wildlife triage clinics across NSW, rebuilt wildlife enclosures on four burnt sanctuaries and built a kangaroo rehabilitation centre. During level-4 lockdown in 2020 smaller charities such as HUHA saw their donations dwindle as New Zealanders were under greater financial pressure. At the same time, job losses meant that many could not afford to feed their own pets. Carolyn rallied volunteers to contact New Zealand manufacturers and were able to deliver more than $120,000 of pet food to food banks and small animal charities through Aotearoa. Carolyn’s mission during these disasters is to help the locally affected people who help animals by giving them the guidance and support they desperately need and leaving them with the tools and infrastructure to carry on.

Danika Revell


Danika (Dani) Revell has a plan to end period inequity (an inability to access period education and period products) in Aotearoa by 2030. In just three years she’s grown The Period Place from a bold idea to a national charity and in that time has staged free public education events, the first Period Market of Aotearoa, two National Period Hui with industry leaders, academics and health providers, given away almost 300,000 disposable period products and over 7,000 reusable period products, and been a part of a team to successfully petition the Government to provide free period products in schools.

During the first Covid level-4 lockdown Dani switched The Period Place's focus and drove a campaign to raise $15,000 in donations for emergency period relief packs that included products and education for whanau needing support from foodbanks. After meeting the Prime Minister in July 2020 to discuss the launch of the free period products in-school initiative, she signed on The Warehouse as the principal partner of The Period Place - this partnership includes a commitment from The Warehouse to provide free period products for all their staff and a roll-out of permanent period product donation boxes in every The Warehouse store (continuing to roll out over 2021).

Through The Period Place, Dani has supported financially or with expertise over 100 businesses in the period industry and beyond, mahi’d with 22 local and central government ministries, departments and Crown Entities and has created distribution partnerships with over 100 local community groups around the country, and recorded season one of The Period Place Podcast with MaiFM Breakfast presenter Tegan Yorwarth, featuring experts and guests from around Aotearoa - this is currently being turned into a free resource for all kiwi kids and schools to use as well, as each episode looks at periods through a different lens, for example, Periods and The Basics, Nutrition, Gender, te ao Maori etc.

Danika’s focus for 2021 is to support our most vulnerable menstruators who will need 140,000 packs of pads a month to be lifted out of extreme period inequity and up a level on the Period Equity Ladder - the model for change that was created by The Period Place in 2020. This roadmap is the key to eliminating all period inequity by 2030 in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that The Period Place measures itself against.

Jignal Bhagvandas


Despite a full-time job as a doctor, Jignal Bhagvandas volunteers her free time towards the charity Arogya Mantra, a non-profit initiative that aims to promote a healthy lifestyle to Auckland’s South-Asian community, and its subsidiary community dance school Aaja Nachle. The two organisations offer a range of services, from community dance and fitness classes (including “BollyFitness” with instructions in English, Hindi, Gujarati and Punjabi), free cultural events and free Bollywood workshops for schools with guest speakers such as doctors, physiotherapists or dietitians discussing common health problems for the South Asian community, and workshops from Diabetes Auckland, Kidney Health New Zealand or Breast Screening Aotearoa. Free medical screenings are carried out by Auckland medical students supervised by registered doctors and nurses. Classes are now run in three locations across Auckland, to hundreds of participants. Arogya Mantra and Aaja Nachle make a tremendous contribution to the migrant community in Auckland, not only improving the health and fitness of its members, but helping youth and adults connect with one another and their culture as well as promoting diversity and acceptance to the greater community.

Josh Hickford


After a diagnosis with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 27 turned Josh Hickford’s life upside down, he has invested much of his life helping other New Zealanders impacted by cancer. Once in remission, he completed an Ironman event to raise funds for the Cancer Society and appeared on Survivor NZ. He went on to raise $32,000 in seed money for an app called Ripple, a cancer support platform that Josh developed in conjunction with the Cancer Society of New Zealand Taranaki Centre. Ripple launched in late 2019 and is a place where people can ask questions, anonymously if they wish, or track down existing forums and read over them. It also allows people to get in direct contact with others in similar positions – something Josh wished he had had access to during his cancer diagnosis. As well as launching Ripple and working as a chartered accountant, Josh is on a range of boards: he is finance chair of the Cancer Society Taranaki Centre and on several Cancer Society regional committees. He is part of the Taranaki leadership team and an NZ Councillor for Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CA ANZ) while also being a young regional advocate. Josh is now Chief Executive of Te Karaka Foundation, the community foundation for Taranaki, its community and its people.

Makasini Tulimaiau


Makasini Tulimaiau has turned her own experience as a parent of a child with a disability into a career as the Pasifika Liaison for Lifewise’s Health and Disability Service in Auckland, and a valued member of her community. The Lifewise team often hear stories of parents crying with relief when they first encounter Makasini: the relief at finally meeting someone who truly understands what life is like for them is overwhelming. Although she represents health services, Makasini’s demeanour and approach is more cultural than clinical. She goes out of her way to accommodate people and help them feel at ease, freely shares her own personal experiences, and on her own time attends events such as the Pasifika Autism Support Group. She also runs whānau workshops with Taikura Trust, which assists those living with a disability with accessing vital services. Pasifika people are underrepresented in health services in Aotearoa, and face unique challenges in accessing the support they need and are entitled to. Makasini has first-hand experience navigating the complex legal, administrative and financial systems, making her a strong and determined advocate for her community.

Mataio Brown


Mataio (Matt) Brown's chain of Christchurch and Manawatū barbershops, My Fathers Barbers, are places for men to get their hair cut or beard trimmed, but also safe spaces for men to foster vulnerability, healing, and connection. Matt facilitates regular free group therapy sessions for men with guest speakers, therapists, community and support, an antidote to toxic masculinity at his barbershops.

Matt utilises his business and social media platforms in many ways to support local community causes and in March 2019, became a fundraising hub of supplies and funds for the Muslim community following the Christchurch Mosque tragedy.

Matt is a survivor of family violence and childhood sexual abuse and shares his story via a barbering program he created inside Christchurch Men's Prison, Te Puna Wai O Tuhinapo. He continues to volunteer alongside Corrections NZ as a patron.

Matt regularly offers free haircuts to members of the Christchurch City Mission community and partners with domestic-violence charities to encourage the notion of violence-free communities. In 2018 Matt partnered with the Ministry of Social Development for the 'It's not OK campaign' to increase awareness about the role of barbers in creating safe spaces for men, and has held wānanga at marae all over the country with a kaupapa of talking about men's mental health, suicide, and family violence.

Along with his wife Sarah, Matt started a global movement 'She is Not Your Rehab', whose mission is to reframe the narrative around abusive relationships, domestic violence, and unhealthy masculinity ideals in a confronting but empathetic way. Matt says the movement and all their content shared is an invitation for men to acknowledge their own childhood trauma and to take responsibility for their healing instead of transmitting it on those around them.

Mustafa Sheikh


After graduating with a BSc (honours) from the University of Auckland, many were surprised to see Mustafa ‘Mussie’ Sheikh head straight for a job at the counter of KFC. But for Mussie it made perfect sense – the job would free up his time and earn him enough money to start Bread, a charity that aims to “protect young dreams” by supporting kids living in poverty. Now Bread is three years old and helps hundreds of kids at low-decile schools. The cornerstone of the organisation is the six-month-long mentoring and study programme, which assists with goal-setting, career-planning, university preparation and positive thinking. Bread also has a clothing fund to supply jackets, shoes and sweaters to kids in need. One of Bread’s unique ways of raising funds is by hosting supercar events and rallies where drivers and owners of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and McLarens pay an entry fee, 100% of which goes to the charity. Mustafa is also a recording artist – known as Lil Mussie – and uses this platform to raise more money for Bread as well as to raise awareness: his song How About You? asks listeners to take a stand to stamp out poverty.

Shannon Te Huia


In 2015 Shannon Te Huia established Pūniu River Care, an iwi-based initiative that aims to improve water quality and biodiversity by planting trees along the banks of the 60-kilometre-long Pūniu River in the Waikato region. The organisation is completely rooted in te ao Māori, and alongside delivering solid, quantifiable results for environmental indicators, it has an equally strong focus on cultural, academic and vocational training: a holistic approach that improves the health and wellbeing of the environment as well as the strength, capacity and mana of its people. To begin, Pūniu River Care initiated a specialist horticultural course through Wintec so that local people could become experts in native plants. It now has more than 30 local people running a 2.5-hectare marae-based nursery that produces 500,000 plants each year. Hundreds more people have learnt from their holistic model at wānanga, community events and marae open days, where Shannon and the team openly share their knowledge and actively help other organisations become established. Pūniu River Care collaborates with a diverse range of organisations, including the Department of Corrections prisoner training programmes, schools, iwi, community groups and research organisations

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