12 April 2024

Former troubled youth now mentoring young people through outdoor adventures

| Kellie O'Brien
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Out Livin Adventures Ngatai Hetet

Out Livin Adventures owner Ngatai Hetet teaching young people how to clean fish. Photo: Supplied.

After spending his younger years stealing and locked up in holding cells, Ngatai Hetet from Oak Flats turned his life around and now mentors disadvantaged young people to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes.

Moving from New Zealand, Ngatai grew up in the Illawarra, falling in with the wrong crowds and getting into “a bit of trouble”.

However, engaging in outdoor activities and sports, such as securing a premiership with the Warilla Gorillas, redirected his trajectory.

He found himself working in disability support in Wollongong, before working independently with a handful of clients who he discovered had similar interests to him, such as fishing and camping.

“That’s how Out Livin Adventures started – I’d take my client down camping or go fishing or go snorkelling and it built up from there,” he said.

Now, with a family of his own, he gets to do what he loves every day in the outdoors, while helping young people with life skills and good decision-making, which includes during the South Coast Camping Adventures school holiday program from 16 – 17 April.

Ngatai has also helped participants start their own businesses, find work and get their driver’s licence and boat licence.

He said the real turning point for him was “hanging out with guys that gave better guidance in life” instead of riding dirt bikes on streets and stealing.

“You might think it’s cool, but it’s not and that’s what I’m now doing with mentoring a lot of guys within the system to show that’s not the cool stuff,” he said.

“The cool stuff is going out fishing, going on a dive, going out camping – that’s what will keep you out of trouble.

“I wish there was more people like me out there doing this because there’s a lot of kids that are at that age when I was doing the same things that just don’t have that guidance.”

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While he originally only started out working with NDIS participants for respite, he now works with any disadvantaged young people or those in need of a mentor or male role model.

“I want to give back and hopefully the kids I’m trying to impact don’t make the same mistakes that I’ve done,” he said.

“I can resonate with a lot of them too, and I know that there is hope.

“I had friends in jail and there was a fork in the road where I could have ended up that way if I didn’t have that self-belief and didn’t take on other hobbies that kept me distracted from getting in trouble.

“I take some of these kids out that have never caught a fish in their life and I take them on a charter and they’re so buzzed that they go and buy a fishing rod and the full setup the next day.

“They love it and then it’s all they want to do.

“It’s good for their mental health too, because a lot of the guys have ADHD or a diagnosis that in society they can’t control but when they’re out fishing or doing something they love, they’re just a whole different person.”

He said after parents regularly asked for him to take their sons, he opened it up to everyone and didn’t mind offering free spots to help young people who would otherwise miss out due to finances.

“I don’t mind doing stuff for nothing, because I got help when I was younger by PCYC,” he said of the youth program he attended as a kid.

“They took us to Eastern Creek and down to Mt Kosciuszko and it was all government paid for and it definitely helped.

“So instead of stealing and doing criminal acts on the weekend, they’d take us down the coast or up the coast and that was good.”

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He now adopted the same approach.

“It’s about dipping their toes in and showing them this is what’s cool,” he said.

“Some have never fished before and some have never been on a camp.”

He said the school holiday program for 10- to 17-year-olds involved teaching how to set up a camp and swag, how to tie fishing lines, and how to catch, clean and cook a fish.

“It’s just basic life skills, but some kids might not have a dad that can show them,” he said, reflecting on his late father showing him how to fish when he was younger.

The demand for Ngatai’s services is high, having had five employees at one time with 20 participants doing group work and one-on-one adventures on the South Coast.

However, he scaled it back after it took him away from direct mentoring of kids through adventures.

He said he was grateful for the community support and the participants who trusted him to help impact their lives but would now love to gain support from fishing or adventure companies with equipment.

To learn more about the April school holiday program or adventures, visit the Facebook page.

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