Paniora is a young man of Cook Island and Maori heritage living and working in Western Sydney. He is passionate about empowering young people with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare healthy meals.
Paniora laments that we live in a world where it is more expensive to buy a bottle of water than to buy a bottle of Coke. Affordability and access to nutritious food is a serious health issue for young people. Many lack the skills and the role models needed to create rewarding experiences around buying, cooking, eating and storing of fresh produce.
He says “young people are conditioned to believe the food can last for weeks, simply because they purchase packets of noodles or cans of fruit or cans of meat, but when it comes to fresh food they don't know that does not have the long shelf life that process meat have. That comes down to knowledge too, and discipline”
There is the need for new role models for young people about food practice: increasing knowledge, advocating for affordability and addressing accessibility.
“I educate, I let people know about myths and fact. We lack common practices of cooking. Through the OzHarvest NEST program, we teach that. I get more and more people to come to the program and they have a very good chance to connect with other people in the process. It creates safe a atmosphere to learn without being judged.
“I mentor people at NEST, keep the order, keep people focused. I enjoy it a lot and the reason why I enjoy it is because I became my own solution. When I was growing up I never had that role model, someone to teach me about healthy food practice, and through the NEST program I became that solution, filling the void.”
Paniora joined the team at OzHarvest by chance. “Years back I was doing a placement at Granville Youth Centre, where the food supplies for young people were donated by OzHarvest. I was so impressed by that act of generosity that I said that I wanted to meet the person responsible for this and say thank you on behalf of the young people benefiting form it.”
The opportunity to do just that presented itself later in the year at the National Youth Leaders Day, where OzHarvest CEO Ronni Kahn was one of the speakers. At question time he seized the chance and thanked Ronni for the continuous work OzHarvest to support young people in need.
"Ronni was very moved by my speech and, from that point on, I stayed in contact with her and the team behind OzHarvest. And that's how it started.
"I am 22 now and I'm eager to use my time to be an advocate, bring forth the issues that young people are facing to the general public. I have the courage to speak in front of a crowd and that is what I strive to do. Bring forth change and understanding for the needs of the youth."
Courage is exactly what is needed to tackle the growing issue of food security in Australia.