SwimWell wahine championing te reo Māori

18 September 2020

Two inspiring young wahine are combining their skills for teaching children to swim with their passion for revitalising te reo Māori.

Aquatic Education Instructors Koopu Waipara and Milly Mackey, both 18, sit on the edge of the Tawa Pool smiling with their feet dangling in the water, with the colourful SwimWell sign behind.

Aquatic Education Instructors Koopu Waipara and Milly Mackey, both 18, at Tawa Pool.

Eighteen-year-old Aquatic Education Instructors Koopu Waipara and Milly Mackey taught free swim sessions in te reo Māori for three and four year olds at Tawa Pool on Wednesday.

The sessions were run as a trial for Wellington City Council’s new SwimWell classes that will be delivered in te reo Māori on a Saturday at Tawa Pool from Term 4.

The idea came from Tawa Programmes Team Leader Jayne Freeman, who says there had been community interest in te reo Māori SwimWell classes in the past, however, she didn’t have any staff fluent in the language.

But then Koopu came along.

Jayne says Koopu began working at the pool in August and had really embraced her role as a swim instructor.

“I knew she was fluent in te reo Māori. The other week I said, Māori Language Week is coming up, are you keen to teach some classes in Māori?”

Koopu says she jumped at the idea.

“I was really keen. I’m keen to have my language a part of it. I was born and bred in te reo Māori and to have an opportunity to do it in my workspace is actually quite cool.

“Part of it is I just don’t want the language to die, especially in my generation it’s been kind of forgotten, and I feel if I can help by passing it on then it’s better for the language in the long run.”

Koopu is something of a teen prodigy with three part-time jobs while still a student at Tawa College. She also works at Tawa Recreation Centre and is a teacher at Titahi Bay Kohanga Reo.

Aquatic Education Instructors Koopu Waipara and Milly Mackey, both 18, sit on the edge of the Tawa Pool smiling with their feet dangling in the water, with the colourful SwimWell sign behind.

With Māori being Koopu’s first language, she says transitioning to a college where the Māori world took a back seat was a challenge.

“I felt more at home and comfortable with having a marae. These swim classes are a great opportunity for kids who come from Māori whānau.”

Milly trains with the Wellington High Performance Rugby Academy and plays Māori rugby at a national level. She works at Tawa and Keith Spry pools and says her job as a swim instructor wraps all her passions into one.

“I love it. It’s so fun and I love being able to work with kids. I also love sport so being in the water and being active – it ticks all the boxes.”

Milly is proud to say her nan Putiputi Mackey received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to Māori Performing Arts and Māori, and she is enjoying her journey in learning the language.

“I have always grown up around te ao Māori and in a Māori environment. I’m not fluent but I can understand most conversations and I can kōrero a little bit. I’m doing Massey University’s Toro Mai course, as well as reading Scotty Morrison’s Māori Made Easy books in my spare time.”

Milly believes tamariki learning to swim and keeping the Māori language alive are both very important.

“When I grew up, I didn’t get the opportunity to be fully immersed. We don’t see much te reo around us, unless you go to a Māori immersion school, there’s not much opportunity to be around it.

The fast swimming lane sign at Tawa Pool in te reo Māori with the swimming pool and lanes in the background.

“It’s important that we’re able to bring te reo Māori into this environment [our pools] and hopefully it will encourage more people to enrol in SwimWell.”

Milly encourages everyone to give te reo a go.

“Even if it’s just a couple of words a day, or 10 minutes here and there – a little from everyone will go a long way to revitalising te reo Māori.”

Jayne, who also launched New Zealand Sign Language SwimWell lessons at Tawa Pool, hopes the new te reo sessions will be embraced by the community.

“I’d like to see these classes grow and I’d like to see us having classes taught in Māori at every level spread across all our Wellington pools.”

There will be two Little Dipper and two Big Dipper SwimWell classes offered in te reo Māori at Tawa Pool on Saturdays from Term 4. To register a child, please email swimwelltawa@wcc.govt.nz. You can also follow the SwimWell Facebook page.