Michelle’s new life
From drugs and alcohol to studying for a degree
Michelle Ratima was almost kicked out of primary school, never made it to high school and was addicted to drugs and alcohol by the age of 10.
Eight years later, the teenager has quit the addictions and is on the road to getting a degree in youth and social work.
‘‘I feel happier and I have more money. I have hung out with people I used to judge,’’ she said about her new life.
It has not been an easy road to change.
After years of not caring, Ratima has needed to complete two years of bridging courses at Whitireia to get into a full degree.
‘‘I have worked hard for where I have got now. I didn’t even know I could write essays.
‘‘ I didn’t ever know about psychology or how to even write academically. I have been places I never thought I could go. I have got opportunities.’’
For Ratima, the bad behaviour started young.
She grew up in Hawke’s Bay in a family with gang ties. She said she was almost kicked out of primary school, and by the time intermediate was over, she had been placed in alternative education.
‘‘I was on drugs. I was under the influence of alcohol. I didn’t know any better.
‘‘I thought this [her current] type of lifestyle was boring. Smoking, drugs, drinking alcohol and partying, all that kind of stuff I thought was fun.
‘‘I was just going around with older people getting stoned. My mother didn’t know I was on drugs.’’
On a typical night out, Ratima would drink a box of 18 Vodka Cruisers, a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka. She smoked cannabis every day. Ratima left home a year ago to get away from the influences around her.
She started to go to church and to dream of doing more.
‘‘I just didn’t like the way I was living. Even just being broke all the time. I was stealing for my addictions.
‘‘There was one rule we were told: you never steal from your own hood, you steal from the rich,’’ she said.
‘‘I’m realising people work hard for what they get.’’
Ratima arrived in Wellington with nothing and the Salvation Army found her a home.
She said she now realised it was possible to have fun without drugs and alcohol.
In the next two years Ratima is planning to start a four- year degree in youth and social work.
She said when that was finished, she planned to start a home in Hawke’s Bay for teenagers like herself.
‘‘ For those who are having problems at home, getting kicked out of home and addicted to drugs and alcohol. ‘‘That motivates me. ‘‘I actually want to do something properly with my life.’’
Everything is different: Michelle Ratima, 18, was addicted to drugs and alcohol, but is now studying to get a degree in social work.