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With a “kia ora”, kai and smiles, school children are helping break down the barriers stopping people from giving te reo Māori a go.

An organisation dedicated to revitalising te reo Māori has seen “old-timers” with an aversion to the language warm to school children out promoting it in shops and facilities around Christchurch.

Aotearoa Rockstars – a charitable trust started last year and run by te reo Māori academics – is dedicated to revitalising the language “for everyone everywhere”.

Primary school teachers Teariki Tuiono and Nathan Riki started the programme in 2019, after they met doing a Masters of Education – which they completed in te reo Māori – at Canterbury University.

Twelve students from one school do a five-week programme alongside local businesses and organisations keen to help promote the use of te reo Māori.

Breens Intermediate School and Burnside Primary School were the first schools to work alongside local retailers, libraries, and church elders.

Armed with an easel, pamphlets and a friendly smile, the students approach customers and give them short lessons on Māori phrases and words they can use every day, Tuiono said.

“We believe the language is for everyone everywhere, but done in an authentic and meaningful way.

“It should be used in shops, libraries, and when you meet someone at a reception desk.”

Sometimes people were whakamā (shy) to use the language, and some even expressed an aversion to it, he said.

“We usually start changing their attitudes because when you have a smiley kid coming up and giving free fruit and veges … the kids are really the stars, not the adults.

“You only can be grumpy for so long, right?”

They had received emails from ‘’old-timers’’ who had learned to enjoy te reo.

But the “big surprise” was that 95 per cent of the feedback was supportive.

That tautoko (support) is further encouraged by the staff who have gone through the course alongside the students.

Gardenfresh Greengrocers Bishopdale owner Matthew Chan completed the Aotearoa Rockstars Programme because he wanted to kōrero (talk) with his 10-year-old daughter who does kapahaka and is fluent in the language.

“I gave myself a challenge, so that I could learn Māori.”

Breens Intermediate School students gave quick tutorials to customers in his vegetable shop last year. Most customers gave it a good try, and only a couple were rude or too shy.

“It’s very important. This language is important for New Zealand.”

Burnside Primary School principal Matt Bateman said he was a “wee bit doubtful” that the community would be receptive to the students.

‘’[But] I was really blown away by the consistently lovely reception from the community.”

The school’s ‘’great, smiley kids” got through to patrons who returned to Jellie Park, for example, each week they were there.

“Some even sang waiata back.”

It was a way to normalise the language in the community, since it was “bit of a waste of time” if the students were only able to use te reo Māori at school.

The school will involve another cohort in term four.

Aotearoa Rockstars has about 25 volunteer helpers, and relies on charitable funding.