Being showered with kindness, aroha and safety is what inspired a Hamilton high school student to set up an anti-bullying club.
Timi Barabas, 17, a student at Rototuna Senior High School, says it’s her dream for all young people feel safe and comfortable to be their true selves.
When Timi and her family moved to New Zealand in 2017 from Hungary, she knew no English at all – she was worried she would be bullied by her new classmates but found instead she was supported by her peers and teachers.
The Rototuna Senior High School student wants that to be the case for everyone who is new to New Zealand or who is perceived as being different to the norm.
“In New Zealand, I’ve never felt so motivated and loved more. Students and teachers supported me and loved me even though I couldn’t speak English. I can be myself in New Zealand," Timi says.
Timi started a group for students in 2018 called the True Colours Club after realising some of her peers weren’t being treated with the same respect as her.
“We developed the club for anyone who is being bullied and needs support, so they know that we are always here for them,” Timi says.
Timi says it’s important that her club is led by rangatahi.
“We know what the problems are in our world and we know how to make effective change.”
Eighteen people from years 7–13 are in the club. They hold weekly meetings and a school counsellor also attends to give support and advice.
The True Colours Club has created a ‘Kindness Week’ this year, running from 13–17 May.
“During the Kindness Week, we’re holding a True Colours concert where students, no matter how good or talented they are, will sing songs about kindness, not giving up and making the world a better place.”
There will also be a compliments wall, free lollies, secret squirrel gifts and a drone photo of the entire school in pink.
While it’s student-led, the Kindness Week has whānau and teacher involvement.
“We have teachers helping us to organise and coordinate the events. Some of the club members’ parents are giving us ideas and helping to get equipment we need for the week’s activities.”
Timi says the True Colours Club already has activities planned once Pink Shirt Day is over to make sure her school community is one where everybody is loved and accepted the way they are.
“We plan to start workshops to help students understand the impacts bullying has on our mental health and how to take actions towards taking a stand against it,” Timi says.
The club also plans to encourage other students to check on their peers and make sure there is nobody, including new students, sitting alone during intervals or lunchtime.
Rototuna Senior High School principal Natasha Hemara says the school deals with all bullying instances through restorative practices.
“Restorative practices are about respecting the mana of people involved in any incident. We encourage mutually respectful professional relationships in our school. Educating any offending individual on the harm that they have caused will help not only de-escalate a situation but potentially repair the harm.”
Natasha says this isn’t just teacher to student – the process has a multi-layered approach.
“Bringing in all school community stakeholders allows for greater ownership of behaviours so that students can reflect, evaluate and move forward in a respectful and understood way.
As a result, Natasha says student stand-downs are becoming less common.
“It’s about ensuring there is no repeat of the behaviour, and this is more likely to happen when students really understand how others are impacted by their actions.
“This is an ongoing journey for us that we are continuing to learn to create a safe and secure educational environment for our young people.”