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Connecting during COVID-19: Whenua Iti Outdoors

Rātā Foundation loves hearing about all the ways community organisations are adapting to the changing COVID-19 Alert Levels and continuing to provide services and innovative initiatives online, and over the phone.

This story is part of Rātā’s Connecting during COVID-19 series. Visit our Community Stories page for more.

Young adventurers may not have been able to go hiking or kayaking during lockdown, but Whenua Iti Outdoors made sure young people could still experience nature within their bubbles.

Whenua Iti Outdoors (WIO), based in the Tasman region, enables rangatahi to take part in experiential learning, gaining valuable skills and inspiring positive change and personal growth.

WIO has a range of adventure programmes which allow young people to experience the outdoors in a safe and educational way – participants have opportunities to do everything from white water rafting to overnight camping trips.

When the COVID-19 Level Four lockdown came into effect, WIO General Manager Mark Bruce-Miller says the team worked to adapt their services so they could continue to support young people to stay active and engaged.

He says a really successful initiative during that time was Go Wild at Home, an online programme which enables young people to experience nature and gain valuable skills in the outdoors  in their own backyard.

An adaption of the Go Wild holiday programme, Go Wild at Home consisted of a series of video challenges including nature photography, knot tying, shelter building and physical fitness.

Young people were encouraged to complete the challenges and send in photos or videos to earn a certificate, just as they would had they attended the Go Wild programme.

Alongside their online initiatives, Mark says WIO have collaborated with organisations such as Oranga Tamariki and Ministry of Social Development to support youth in crisis.

He says WIO’s youth in crisis services were not called upon much during Level Four, but the transition to Level Three saw a surge in referrals to help young people who were struggling.

He says WIO provides a one-on-one mentoring service which, while maintaining social distancing, allows youth workers to meet up with a young person to get them out of their bubble for a break – whether it be for a walk, a bike ride or just a chat.

WIO’s ‘business as usual’ will not properly resume until at least July, Mark says, and the organisation is planning to alter the way they work as Alert Levels change.

He says the transition back to school and business as usual will require a system shift to enable young people to be supported and re-engage with learning.

However he says he expects the experiential learning opportunities provided by WIO to be in hot demand as young people reconnect with the natural environment.

WIO is funded by Rātā Foundation under the Learn focus area, enabling young people/rangatahi to gain knowledge, skills and confidence throughout their lives.

Find out more about Whenua Iti Outdoors here: