A 12-year-old Rotorua girl bullied over the colour of her skin is set to launch a web series for children and parents to tell their stories about bullying and racism within the school system.
By Mildred Armah
Sahara Magura, who attends Rotorua Primary School, is of Zimbabwean, Tongan, Tokelauan and Samoan descent. She says she has suffered racist slurs since preschool.
“I was told by both my mum and dad that when I was two, I was called the n-word at my kindergarten by another kid,” Sahara told 1 NEWS.
She says parents and schools need to be more educated about such issues so they can help children with them.
“Even though parents may teach their children the n-word, they then have the option to say it to people of colour or not. They choose to say it to me.”
Sahara says she was recently called the n-word by a friend after she tripped and fell over.
“I felt quite hurt ... They make me feel like I’m their target.”
In another instance, she recalled being asked by a classmate if she could use a black felt tip when they replied, ''you've already got enough black on your skin".
She says she broke down following the incident.
Sahara says schools should "have a programme every single year to talk to all the students and all new students about racism".
“I'm a prefect at my school, I've asked the principal if I can talk to the whole school about racism and using the n-word.”
She says she'd like to speak specifically to the juniors so they know what is acceptable to say and what isn't when interacting with black friends.
“As the oldest African at my school, it's kind of my job to speak out on that to the juniors or the principal about it.”
Sahara says this is to prevent young African children from experiencing racism at school as she did.
“It's my job to be a role model for them, to speak out on it so it won't be as bad, so they don't feel like they're alone.”
Atalasa Salesa, Sahara’s mother, says she has been going in to speak to the school and the principal since Sahara was young.
She says she recently spoke to the principal about the issue.
“I just told him flat out 'you're not doing enough'.”
Salesa says it is education that is needed, not just threats of expulsion, adding, "saying you’ll be expelled is just not enough.”
She says she knew something was happening with Sahara when she would come home from school saying she wanted to have a lighter complexion.
“Before she even said anything, I could tell something was up because she would come home crying saying, 'Why can't I be lighter? Why can't I have hair like you?'’
Salesa says as a parent, it makes her feel angry.
“I'm fuming about it. I usually cry about it.”
She says children need to understand the words they're saying and how they hurt.
“Schools are saying no tolerance but when it happens, they just sweep it under the carpet. What exactly does that no tolerance look like? Because it's still happening.”
The principal of Rotorua Primary School, Fred Whata, says they take accusations of bullying very seriously.
“I regret that it's gotten to this point, but I can reassure you that we treat all matters very seriously," he said.
“I have a number of tools given to me by the ministry in accordance with disciplining individuals based on their behaviour. Bullying is not something we sweep under the carpet.”
Whata says they follow a seven-step discipline plan around bullying behaviour and, in special instances, have followed a restorative justice approach where he collaborates alongside parents and students affected.
Sahara is now planning on launching a web series on her Facebook page, providing a platform for children and parents to tell their stories about bullying and racism within the school system.
“The goal is to give a platform to those that feel schools are failing them, as well as letting these children know they’re not alone," Salesa said.