Jaycee Maunsell-McMenaminDoctors are still investigating her symptoms and aren’t quite sure what Jaycee’s condition is. “I get really sore muscles in my hands, fingers and arms and if it gets bad it goes up to my shoulders and then down to my neck and back as well,” she says.

If Jaycee pushes herself too much she ends up with chronic fatigue, making it very hard to concentrate. She has acupuncture to treat her condition, but because it’s not an accredited therapy, she’s had trouble accessing disability allowance. “I almost gave up studying this year, but I put my studies first and Unitec really came on-board in helping me,” she says.

The Disability Liaison team supported Jaycee throughout her three-year Social Practice degree with note takers, dictaphones and customised keyboards. When Jaycee’s disability allowance stopped, the Student Finance team stepped in with bus fares and food cards, and a grant so that Jaycee could complete her practicum.

Jaycee also credits the spiritual support she had from Whai Ake, Unitec’s Māori scholarship and mentoring scheme. Jaycee was both a mentee and a mentor and the experience helped her recognise her bi-culturalism. “It allowed me to see that we need both worlds, but not to let go of our tikanga,” she says.

“Whai Ake is a really good programme - being together learning Māori things as well as being supported in your degree. When the acting students have plays the whole group goes and watches, when the photography students have a display we give them a haka and support them.”

Hear how Jaycee's qualification has helped her, her whanāu and her community.

Jaycee also enjoyed seeing other Māori discover their potential. “There are so many talented kids – there’s some awesome singers, some really good kapa haka people, kids who can speak te reo. It’s been really encouraging for me because where I come from you don’t see many people going off to tertiary education.”

Jaycee chose to study Social Practice after being told she was good with people. She did a placement last year at Ngā Puhi Iwi Social Services where she was a mentor to four boys and a girl. It really cemented her desire to help all Māori people, not just youth.

“It’s cool the way they work with young people because it’s suited to the area, it’s more hands on. We took them fishing, taught them to grow their gardens and took them to butchery class, so they know how to cut up their pigs after they hunted. But during those times they’re having fun, so they open up more,” explains Jaycee.

“I had the chance to bring them down to Auckland and they stayed with me and my mum. None of them had that nurturing side – you know, their parents – and they didn’t want to leave. It was a really humbling and eye opening experience.”

As a social practitioner, Jaycee finds it easy to connect with people and see a range of viewpoints. “The best thing I got from the social practice degree was being able to change my perspective and open my mind to other peoples’ views,” she says.

“It’s been really good for my family too, because I’ve been able to act as a mediator. Been able to get my mum to see my sisters’ point of view and my sisters’ to see my mum’s. I’m really good at not causing offense now too.”

Jaycee believes that having her whānau around her made a big difference to her studies. “It’s been really good having my mum here. [Jaycee’s mum also studies at Unitec]. She hasn’t been in education for years so I referred her to the ambassador programme. But she also referred me to the START mentor programme, so it’s been give and take relationship personally and study-wise.”

Maia Māori Centre has been a home away from home for Jaycee too. ”They’re the ones who referred me to all the help services. I think they’re really good for Māori students, for those who come from out of Auckland and don’t have that whānau support.”

For Jaycee, it was the supportive whānau atmosphere of Maia that has encouraged her to return to Kaikohe as a Whānau Worker for Ngā Puhi Iwi Social Services. Her goal is to strengthen the importance of bi-culturalism. “We still need our tikanga, but we need Western tools too. We need to stop trying to push our views on each other and mix them. It’s going to be really hard up north, they’re so into their tikanga. But I’m willing to give it a go.”