Dave Letele says the cost of living crisis is leaving New Zealand children hungry, cold and turning to gangs

  • 20/07/2022

Dave Letele says the cost of living crisis is leaving Kiwi kids with no food, in cold homes, who only have gang members to aspire to. But he says it is possible to pick yourself up from the bottom.

Letele, also known as the Brown Buttabean, is a respected community leader but it's been a hard road. Born into a gang family, Letele's father was the president of Auckland's Mongrel Mob.

He got out, playing rugby league around the world, but then hit bottom again. Mired in drugs and crime, Letele got a chance to box and the Brown Buttabean was born.

He dropped the kilos and opponents and started up boot camp programmes to help others. Eventually, they expanded to foodbanks, youth work, leadership training and food workshops.

Letele's belief is that relentless positivity can change lives and he has just come out with a book called 'No Excuses' on how he turned his life around.

He said his book represents hope.

"Right now, watching this at home, there are kids with no food, they're in cold homes. Their parents are contemplating going out and stealing or robbing just to feed their kids," Letele told The Project on Tuesday. "It's a nightmare out there."

He said people are starting to be desensitised to the cost of living crisis, but it's "really bad" in the community.

He said what needs to happen is for government, business and community groups to work together to support the groups on the frontline.

"They're not another mini bureaucracy like a government, they are actually on the ground working every day, we know the need, support those," Letele said. 

"Most of these groups are doing it with next to nothing, imagine if you gave them a little."

He said the funding to the frontline groups goes directly to the people who need it, rather than "paying for offices".

 Letele said as poverty increases, it's not a coincidence that crime does too.

"When you've got kids at the bottom staring at who are the role models they have, that have the gold, the cars, the bikes, the girls - it's the gang members and drug dealers," he said. "That's what these kids have to aspire to.

"This book represents it's possible to have nice things and help people along the way."

He said he picked himself up from a dark place and along the way he realised to help himself he can also help thousands of people.

"I always encourage everyone not to dwell at the bottom and feel sorry for ourselves and wait for the system to help us because if we wait for the system, we are going to be waiting all our lives."

His advice for others in similar situations:

"Never feel embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. It's not a sign of weakness… It's actually a sign of strength," Letele said. "Just start, get up and start.

"If I can, you can."

Watch the full interview above.