Clara and Manga outside their kura, with their children, Manga Tangaroa (4), Lottie Te Ao Waiora (2), Hone Te Hira (7) Kaainga Letitia (10), and Yvonne Hinemarama (6). Photo / Māori TV
Note: A previous version of this story said Te Puna Reo O Manga Tangaroa is the first full-immersion kura. That has since been amended.
A Kaikohe couple are doing what they can for neuro-diverse and disabled tamariki by establishing Aotearoa’s first full-immersion preschool designed for children with disabilities.
Te Puna Reo O Manga Tangaroa in the Far North settlement of Kaikohe is the first fully accessible, full-immersion pre-school for both tamariki with severe disabilities and able-bodied tamariki, with a big focus on te reo Māori.
For parents of five Clara and Manga Aperehama-Kopa, their child has been the source of inspiration.
Their 4-year-old Manga Tangaroa – affectionately known as “Mungzy” – was born with a debilitating brain disorder. In his young life, he’s already endured countless surgeries, but his bright, music-loving personality shines through.
Mum Clara had been searching tirelessly for a kura that would allow him to thrive, which also had a large focus on te reo Māori. The closest centre for children with disabilities was a three-hour commute away.
Manga had no access to a puna reo that would cater to his diverse needs, but that’s now changed.
One day she came home and performed a karakia, asking where a school for her son was. In what she described as a “beautiful moment”, a reply from her tupuna (ancestors) was offered.
“ōna tēnei whare, nōna tēnei kura,” they said, which translates to “this is his house, this is his school.”
It would be weeks before she had a second moment of clarity and envisioned the whole whare as a kura. That vision has now become a reality.
At their own expense, the Aperehama-Kopa family started doing the mahi. Family members became painters and builders, and the local community offered their aid. Enough money was raised for a wheelchair lift and sensory room.
The kura has now secured funds from the Ministry of Education, and after an inspection on Thursday, its opening date will soon be announced.
Carla said their roll is now full, as is the waitlist.
She said building the kura is about creating an opportunity for all tamariki to thrive as individuals.
“I think that all tamariki deserve the opportunity to reach their highest potential,” she said. She noted that she didn’t want to see Manga “locked away” from the world, as is the reality across the world for differently-abled individuals.
She said we often take for granted things such as being able to hold our heads up, but she said she doesn’t expect her son to be “the same” as anyone else.
“Every child has their own extraordinary capability,” she said, something illustrated in her son.
“He doesn’t walk, he doesn’t talk but he has these extraordinary powers,” she said.
Since Manga has been shared with the world, he’s changed lives. Clara said their Facebook page has received random messages from individuals who wanted to end their lives, but their son filled them with “so much joy and hope”.
“This little boy is only 4 years old,” Clara said, “but he’s a hero to me.”
She said her hope for Manga is that he is given the opportunity to be the “best him he can be”.
Clara said her dream is to see “all tamariki” have the opportunity and the freedom to learn how they need to.
“Imagine having 35 superheroes, and knowing you helped unlock their superpower,” she said.
Clara believes too many kura “compartmentalise” learning.
“It should be individualised to each person,” she said, because each person has their own strengths, capabilities and skills, and it’s all about “unlocking” these.
Now the whānau’s incredible story will be aired on an eight-episode feature documentary called Super Kura, which follows the family on their journey from idea to reality.
The show, produced by Martin Cleave, aired its first episode on Monday on Māori TV and will continue for another seven episodes.
Clara said it was nerve-racking having a camera crew in their whare, sometimes at the crack of dawn when they’d be getting ready for the day.
However, her five children – Kaainga Letitia (10) Hone Te Hira (7) Yvonne Hinemarama (6) Manga Tangaroa (4) and Lottie Te Ao Waiora (2) – adjusted well.
She said their situation hasn’t always been easy, but her other four young ones “love their brother so much”.
“These tamariki are so behind their brother,” she said.
Sacrifices have had to be made, such as missing out on Christmas presents last year, but Clara told her tamariki that Christmas is all about whānau, which they understood.
“They’ve learned how to sacrifice for the bigger picture,” said Clara, “they’re pretty cool, my babies.”
Her daughter Yvonne put things cleverly in a debate with a friend about having money: “Who cares? My mum’s not rich, but she built my brother a school!”
Funded by Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air, you can watch the poignant first episode of Super Kura at https://www.maoritelevision.com/shows/super-kura/S01E001/super-kura-episode-1