How education and brotherly love changed a man's life

One of New Zealand's top secondary school teachers knows first-hand the power education has to change someone's life.

Tarewa Williams is the head of science at One Tree Hill College in Auckland, and recently was awarded the National Excellence in Teaching honour for his contribution to education.

"I'll preach until the cows come home that education for me is the key to opportunity," says Tarewa.

But his path to success may not have happened had it not been for his older brother Noho and the sacrifices he made for his little brother. When Tarewa was 11 years old, Noho raised him as his own.

The Williams brothers' mother Te Atarua had 10 children to bring up on her own when her husband left the family. When she passed away at just 45, Noho decided to step up and look after his two youngest siblings, including Tarewa. Noho was 22 years old.

"I wanted them to have better than we had. We had a tough life, there were very dark moments, like most young couples, my parents struggled," Noho says.

The Hui
Noho Williams. Photo credit: The Hui

"I never thought of Noho as my father, I never thought of him as Dad, I thought of him as a man that I wanted to model myself after him - loyal, determined, hard-working, loving," Tarewa adds.

Sixty-one-year-old Noho now lives in Christchurch with his wife Katrina, but despite the distance the bond between the brothers remains strong.

"It wasn't easy, I have to say. For me it definitely wasn't a sacrifice, it was the right thing to do. They helped me grow as well, it wasn't just one way," Noho says.

 While he worked different jobs to provide for his family, there was one obstacle Noho found difficult to overcome: helping his little brother with his homework.

 With no formal qualifications, Noho knew he needed to go back to school.

"When I was in my last year of primary school I distinctly remember sitting at the table doing my homework and he was doing his. At that point he was doing School Certificate - which is now equivalent to Year 11 - English, Maths and Māori," Tarewa remembers.

Noho's hard work paid off. School Certificate led to University Entrance and two university degrees - at masters level.

"I got a real passion for learning. I got a little bit hooked on it to be honest, I loved to learn," Noho remembers.

As a young boy Noho didn't fare well at school.

"It wasn't as if I was thick or anything, school just didn't work for me. I was totally disengaged. I was disruptive and I thought I'd better leave before I was asked to leave," Noho says.

His big brother's experience drives Tarewa's passion for his profession and going that extra mile to help his students.

"I think to a certain extent Noho was a square peg which they tried to put into a round hole, and it didn't fit," Tarewa says.

Tarewa's teaching style empowers students to reach their full potential, like 17-year-old Ariana Guptill.

Now in her final year of school, Ariana credits Tarewa for helping her, including getting a $20,000 scholarship to study at a prestigious university overseas.

"I was very shy - if you had told me that I was going to be head girl, no, I wouldn't have thought so. But he definitely brought me out of my shell and helped me to build confidence with public speaking, but also just speaking one-on-one," Ariana says.

For Tarewa, he credits the love and backing of his whanau that's got him to where he is today.

"I've been supported in my journey, I haven't done that by myself. Your background is what it is. If you aspire to something different then it can be done, absolutely," Tarewa says.

The Hui