Sione Toangutu (he/him) is a Tongan youth worker at Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS), which is a service which supports young people to reduce harm from alcohol and other drugs.
He is working on a research project to support young people from South Sudanese communities who have lived experience of alcohol or drug harm. By elevating their lived experience, he’s improving YSAS and other services better to be more culturally competent working with South Sudanese young people.
Youth work matters to Sione because as a young person who migrated from NZ as a teen, he felt lost and didn’t have any support. This inspired him to give back, hold space and make change for young people.
“I treat the young people I work with as if they were the younger me,” says Sione. “I have such a great responsibility to service these young people, and to do everything in my power to help them in whatever way they need, whether it be financially, emotionally, mentally, or just a friend to talk to, and just to listen to them and hold space for them.”
A simple conversation can have the biggest impact on a young person, just to let them feel safe and to feel heard.–Sione Toangutu
That passion has made a big impact on young people’s lives. Over the years, Sione has used his expertise in working with young people to provide young people with the care they need in a way that other services couldn’t.
“I was able to meet her on her terms, let her know that I am here solely for the purpose to help her in whatever way she needs. She could tell the difference of my approach opposed to other services, and I was able to break it down in her language what support these other services provided and why they were important to her,” recounts Sione.
“Through my work with her, she did a complete 180. I was able to see her gain confidence, and just seeing her understand what the services were there for, and how they could support her. She then took it upon herself to make these appointments a priority in her life, and to attend them on her own. Now she’s staying on top of her mental health and, her physical health. To now, having your own home, having a full time job, taking care of her bills, taking care of her mental health showing up to appointments, all on her own.
“She told me herself, that she didn't know where she would be if it weren't for me.”
The changes and the success stories are the fuel that keeps Sione going.
"When you see what the young person has become as compared to what you saw from the beginning of when you started working with them, just makes it all worth it. It makes all the hard work that you put in, the tough conversations, the tough moments throughout your work with this young person worth it. When so many others gave up on this young person, I'm so glad I never did."
Seeing these outcomes in young people is why Sione believes we need to invest in more youth services, and provide young people alternative pathways.
“We need funding for after our services, you know what I mean? So that these young people don't have to be on the street, you know, they have the option of going and playing basketball and having dinner as opposed to being on the street hungry, going into Coles and stealing a chicken and bread to feed themselves.”
As a youth worker, we literally change young people's lives and I've seen it first hand on countless occasions. You know, it was two options. It was either incarceration, or death, and just to be the person that gives them their third option is the most rewarding thing.–Sione Toangutu
Sione is proud to be a youth worker because of the impact he is having on our future generations.
“Youth Work Matters because the work that we're doing now with our youth is only going to benefit our future as a society.”
Sione shared his story as part of YACVic’s Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here.