Māori University of Otago medicine student helping to revitalise health of te reo Māori

A young Māori medicine student is on a mission to help restore the health of te reo Māori.

For Isaac Smiler, te reo Māori had been lost from his whanau for a few generations.

"It's been lost from my grandfather to my father and to me."

But the inspiration for reclaiming the language was sparked after living in the Philippines for two years on his mission.

"I had to learn to speak their language, which is called Bisaya or Cebaono," he tells The Hui.

"I spent my mornings studying the scriptures and studying the language and then come around lunchtime we'd eat, leave the house and start talking to people."

However, immersing himself in another language and culture left him feeling confused.

"I came home almost feeling Filipino - I had a Filipino heart. It was beautiful and I still love the people and that place a lot," he says.

"But paying all that attention to the Filipino culture made me think about myself and my own blood."

Eventually, he'd move from the tropics of the Philippines to Ōtepoti in Te Wai Pounamu to train as a doctor. Now he's in his fourth year of medical school at the University of Otago.

Despite his intense study schedule, he's just as committed to learning te reo Māori.

Smiler helped to set up beginner Te Reo classes for students at the University of Otago.

His friend and fellow medicine student Nic Sinnott is also on his Te Reo journey, and he sees the massive benefits of trainee doctors learning the language.

"It means a lot as Māori as well actually to be able to use Te Reo in our practice," Sinnott says.

"Because we're, at the end of the day, here to help people. If that's one extra thing to remove a barrier to primary health care then we want to do it."

Smiler knows he has a long way to go on his Te Reo journey, but he encourages others to be brave in their pursuit of the language.

"My biggest barrier was the fear of mistakes, the shame you don't want to try and have a conversation in te reo Māori."

But overcoming that fear and passing on the language is vital to ensure its survival.

"It's kind of on us to revitalise, teach our own children and pass it on."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

Māori University of Otago medicine student helping to revitalise health of te reo Māori