Labour of love

Issue: Volume 96, Number 20

Posted: 13 November 2017
Reference #: 1H9g7X

Conversations with Teen Mums is a web-based film project that captures the lives of girls who have become mothers while still young themselves. The documentary also provides insight into the important work done by teen parent education units.

“Everything I do is to just make my sons proud of me. I just want them to know, nothing can stop them from doing anything they want.”

These are the words of Michaela, one of the young mothers featured in Conversations with Teen Mums, a film project described by its creators as a four-year “labour of love”.

Director Juliette Veber has worked on a number of local films but Conversations with Teen Mums is the first in this particular style: the multimedia format comprises photographic portraits, personal quotes, written interviews and three half-hour films.

The film captures the learning journey of its subjects in their own words and provides a unique window into the lives of young
New Zealand women who are coming of age as their children grow up.

In 2008 Juliette and collaborator Vicky Pope produced Trouble Is My Business, a documentary film shot at Auckland’s Aorere College.

Trouble Is My Business documented the daily work of assistant principal Gary Peach as he tried to help his students remain in school and achieve their best.

Juliette was pregnant with her second child when she decided to make Conversations with Teen Mums. Travelling in New York City at the time, she saw posters in the subway ‘warning’ young people about getting pregnant.

“It was basically a shame campaign for teen mums – I found it quite disturbing,” she says.

“Because I was pregnant at the time and had a two-year-old daughter as well, I just wondered how it would feel to be a young mum hearing messages like that.”

She wanted to tell the stories of young parents who were trying to pursue their dreams at the same time as raising a child.

“I know how hard that is at any age, but how hard it would be for young mums to go through that before they’ve finished their education?

“I wanted to showcase young mums who are resilient and determined.”

The project was completed over a four-year period and much of the filming and research took place at the Taonga Education Centre (Teen Parent Unit) at James Cook High School in Clendon, Auckland.

Through the process of making the film, Juliette says she saw the school supporting students to achieve their goals.

One parent, Michaela, is studying hard at Taonga to fulfil her dream of becoming a primary school teacher. The documentary follows Michaela as she attends her acceptance interview for her tertiary course, and on a work placement in a school.

“I spent a lot of time with the teachers at the Teen Parent Unit,” says Juliet.

“What I really loved about Taonga, and the other units I visited, was that they truly operate as a safe place for these mums.

“Many of them had instability at home. So to have a stable environment, where there’s a kitchen, their babies are right next door, social workers and nurses visit... everything’s taken care of, and set up for their learning.

“I found that the teachers are incredibly supportive, and students are able to follow their own paths. They work at their own pace, and everything is geared towards the students. It’s a good opportunity.”

Because Juliette was juggling the responsibilities of parenting young children at the time of researching and filming Conversations, the students’ stories had extra resonance for her.

“One of the most beautiful aspects of the project for me has been watching the young mums grow up and seeing their children start school,” she says.

“It has been quite amazing to be able to look back on those early interviews and see them grow up and mature; those girls are all in their early 20s now and their children have started school.

“Their teachers have really high expectations of them, when society as a whole doesn’t really. I wanted to show a bit of who they really are to the world.”

Find the multimedia project Conversations with Teen Mums at link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 AM, 13 November 2017

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