Why Ora cadet finds passion in orthotics at Taranaki Base Hospital

26 January 2024

Being in “a position to help people and make their lives easier” is what drew Treal Niwa into the role of orthotic technician cadet at Taranaki Base Hospital.

Joining the whānau at Te Whatu Ora in Taranaki directly from Spotswood College when he was just 17, Treal has been working at Taranaki Base Hospital for almost a year now, thanks to the Why Ora cadetship initiative.

Treal had a passion for health in high school but had no idea which health pathway was the right fit for him, until he received the Why Ora cadetship.

He was one of five young Māori who were offered a cadetship last year and was encouraged by Spotswood College staff to apply. Why Ora kaiārahi (mentors) then organised for Treal to have an orientation of a few departments at Taranaki Base Hospital.

When he entered the orthotics department, Treal thought all the aspects of how to remodify and make an orthotic shoe were intriguing.

“I’m fascinated by the depth of orthotics and enjoy shoe making and tinkering with the equipment, including splitting knives and antique sewing machines,” says Treal.

As the eldest of eight, Treal wants to set a positive example for his siblings, as well as inspire other young Māori men to get into the work force and the health sector. Working at Taranaki Base enables Treal to fulfil his mission to make everyday life better for people.

You should “not let age be a barrier to your aspirations and goals. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” advocates Treal.

In an average month Treal creates and remodifies 20 to 30 orthotic shoes, meaning he’s worked on about 220 pairs so far, and counting! Over Christmas it was so busy that Treal completed 20 pairs of shoes in just two weeks! The most challenging task is splitting shoes to raise the soles. Treal cuts the sole, adds the raise, and then glues it back together so it’s as good as new.

“The orthotics team are so cool to be around and make working an enjoyable experience, giving me something to look forward to every morning,” says Treal. “They are also very receptive to learning about Māori culture.”

Within his mahi Treal aims to combat the stigma around Māori in health.

“Making our Māori patients feel comfortable is the most important thing to me. They are usually surprised to see a young Māori tane in the department!” says Treal.
Having a mentor through the Why Ora cadetship is a great extra support to Treal and it took some of the pressure and stress off him, especially when he first started his role.

Why Ora works in partnership with Te Whatu Ora and other organisations to offer cadetships and aims to grow the number of cadetships offered in the next year. Tanya Anaha, the interim tāhuhu rangapū (chief Māori health and equity officer) at Te Whatu Ora in Taranaki and pou whakahaere (chief executive) of Why Ora states they have seen very positive results over the years.

“Many of our cadets go on to gain temporary and permanent roles leading towards meaningful and rewarding career pathways,” says Tanya. “Treal for example, has gained an amazing career in Orthotics.”

In the future Treal has ambitions to become an orthotist, which requires a degree in prosthetics and orthotics, and to create his own business fabricating and producing AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis) splints.

When Treal isn’t busy remodifying the latest orthotics shoes you may find him going for a swim, catching a wave, or spending time with his whānau.

“I live by the belief that it’s worth giving everything a try and making the most of any opportunities,” says Treal. “My journey is proof that anything can happen if you’re willing to work for it.”

 The purpose of Why Ora is to empower Māori career and employment aspirations so that our whānau can flourish, Tanya Anaha explains.

“Cadetships provide our registered taiohi (youth) and whānau of all ages with the valuable opportunity to develop positive relationships, connections, transferable skills, and employment experience in their potential future career,” says Tanya.

“Through this initiative we expect to achieve sustainable employment opportunities for Māori within the education, health and disability sectors in Taranaki.”

Why Ora arranges cadetships that add value for the cadet as well as the host organisation with the support of funding from the Toi Foundation, Te Whatu Ora, Te Aka Whai Ora, and the Ministry of Social Development.

Last updated: Friday, January 26, 2024

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