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Youth ambassador encourages conversations about mental health among rangatahi

Natasha Hill, Te Rito Cadet

A youth ambassador for the largest Pacific arts festival will speak about his acting journey after losing his brother to cancer as a child.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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The 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPAC) is the largest celebration of indigenous Pacific people and this year has a delegation of 85 participants from Aotearoa.

Actor Poroaki Merritt-McDonald will be participating in the festival as a youth ambassador alongside Annafinau Tukuitoga Ponita, the Pacific representative.

“It will be as simple as having a conversation among other like-minded youth around the Pacific... For myself personally we’ll dive deep into mental health and how that relates back to me as a performing artist.”

Merritt-McDonald said he got his start on a short film called My Brother Mitchell because his mum encouraged him to audition after losing his brother to cancer at the age 12.

‘Pushing through with mamae’

“It was a story about a boy who was going on a journey about losing his brother and so it was almost worked like fate. For me it was about how to turn my mamae into prosperity.”

He said he got the role when he broke down in tears during the audition because the storyline reminded him of his late brother.

Merritt-McDonald said it wasn’t until the 2022 film Muru that he started to see his achievements and accomplishments.

“I actually started seeing what I’m able to achieve when you’re able to push through with mamae (pain). It’s a beautiful thing, mamae. Once you get to understand it you can use it as a powerful tool at your disposable.

“In the Pākehā world they’ll tell you to kill that bug [pain] and get rid of it. In te ao Māori make it your mate, look after it because it will look after you in the end.”

The festival will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii from June 6-16.

Hero Image: Muru actor Poroaki Merritt-McDonald is FestPAC's Youth Ambassador this year.

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