It’s not often the world stops and listens to four girls from south Auckland.
But Papakura High School students Rosaline Petelo, Pauline Kaulave, Ilhaam Sheik-Freed and Mercy Laufale have the ear of the rugby world after their poem, Mana Wahine, was picked to be the soundtrack for a Rugby World Cup campaign ahead of the tournament in New Zealand next month.
Aimed at inspiring people to get behind the tournament, the poem has already been part of a promotional video read by Kiwi celebrities, and earlier the girls read it to the Black Ferns in person.
After hearing the poem, tournament director Michelle Hooper said the quartet had “captured the essence and spirit of women’s rugby in such a dynamic and poignant way”.
It’s been a little unusual for the teenagers, who usually share their poems within their poetry collective at their high school.
For them, it’s less about the accolades, instead about finding a voice and the tools to rewrite the negative narratives of their oft-maligned suburb.
“On top of being given a platform, it’s really what you choose to do with that platform,” said Laufale.
“Especially coming from a low decile school it’s more important to see our talent and focus on the future rather than our school’s standards and reputation from the past.”
About a dozen students or so get together as often as they can to share their poems and workshop them with teacher Leiseli Samiu and poetry coach Zech Soakai.
“It’s a safe space where we can share our stories and it gives us a lot of confidence,” said Laufale.
“It’s just a way to tell our story and express [to each other] what we usually can’t express at home.”
Hariata Tanetinorau Rangi is a member of Papakura High School poetry club.
Laufale said their success proved that all it took for kids to succeed was for “someone to put in a little bit of effort to meet us halfway”.
Hariata Tanetinorau Rangi, another member of the collective, said he found it was an outlet for him to “find beauty in my own experiences” growing up in Papakura.
He’s even found a few jobs through poetry, getting videos commissioned for the youth voting campaign, and a job as a poetry teacher at a non-profit community art space.
The Rugby World Cup will kick off on October 8 at Eden Park where the Black Ferns will take on Australia as part of a triple-header, also featuring South Africa playing France and Fiji against England.