The first thing you notice about Makerita Makapelu is her positivity.
Considering all that she’s been through, her radiance is all the more remarkable.
The eldest daughter of Samoan migrants, she went through difficult and rebellious teenage years, seeing her way through a bare minimum of school and being caught up in a party lifestyle, fuelled in part by a family tragedy.
But it was contacts from those partying days that provided the first opportunity for Makerita to retake control of her life. One early morning she found herself catching a ride home with a person who encouraged her to join his drama group – a group of people passionate about using theatre as therapy.
Makerita’s story was one of two that the group translated into a play that toured New Zealand several times and became the subject of a documentary.
From her first moment on stage, Makerita says she ‘‘knew she had come home’’.
The transformation occurring in her life enabled her to re-look at what she wanted for her future, but after many years of living from day to day, moving from house to house, with no plans for the future presented some significant hurdles.
The stress and isolation of her financial situation had taken on a life of its own and her credit rating suffered.
Makerita turned her energy towards investing in her family’s future.
She wanted a future for her children that included not bringing them up in a state house and ensuring they could live the dream her parents had come to Aotearoa with.
This meant a stop to the partying and starting to save. It meant training for higher paid jobs and changing lifestyles including planning meals and growing the family’s veges.
‘‘We lived on a street where everyone knew each other and we made our own fun,’’ she recalls.
‘‘There were mini discos for the kids and everyone paid a dollar for a hot dog and drink.’’
A major step was the decision to buy a house for the whole family, including her parents.
It had the major benefits of sharing resources and investing in the future but was also a huge challenge because years of not paying bills on time and defaulting on hire purchases had given her a poor credit rating.
With a lot of hard work and diligence making hefty loan repayments on the house, their credit rating has improved to the extent the family now has more options for a mortgage.
But what has kept Makerita strong is her knowledge that she can survive. And she has.