A Whanganui trust is getting more of its young people out on its ancestral river after partnering with Water Safety NZ in the hope of improving drowning statistics.
Those rangatahi are also being steered by a survivor who beat the odds.
More than 100 rangatahi took part in a week-long camp, all of them reconnecting with their ancestral river.
“The majority of the chat from the kids is that they all want to stay here forever. And we think that's great,” mentor Parekaia Tapiata said.
Leaders at the camp are passionate about water safety, including Rob Hewitt, the diver famous for surviving whilst lost at sea in 2006.
“What inspires me to work in this space is my survival. You know eight years ago, 10 years ago I survived four days and three nights out at sea. And for me it was a tohu to come back and to teach our people some of the skills that I learned when I was out there having a wananga with tangaroa.”
Māori are over-represented in drowning statistics, making up around 25 per cent of preventable deaths.
“Most drownings occur in this country unfortunately because people make bad decisions around water,” Water Safety NZ CEO Jonty Mills told 1 NEWS.
“From a drowning perspective Māori make up 14 per cent of the population and yet nearly a quarter of all preventable drownings.
"So this is targeted at the most vulnerable youth. And really importantly it's teaching them those life skills about water safety, but more importantly about the risk and respect for the water as our environment.”
Mr Hewitt said: “Looking at our how we're dying out at see, how we're drowning especially for Maori you know we're drowning kohikohi kai gathering seafood because we don't do the tikanga stuff right, we don't do karakia or we’re not wearing the lifejacket or the gear that we're taking isn't up to standard.
“So that's what inspires me come back because I know that I had some training but I also had some wairua to be able to help me survive.”
It is important core skills are mastered.
“We're always talking about kia manu kia ora - stay afloat stay alive, we're always leading by example wearing a lifejacket,” Mr Hewitt said.
Tutors hope the lessons in a place tied deeply with identity will sink in deeply and keep everyone coming home safely.