Caitlin Papuni-Mclellan - NZ Youth Ambassador


Caitlin is an exceptional New Zealander who's seized of a number of opportunities. She was a New Zealand Youth Ambassador at the Gallipoli Centenary Commemorations in Turkey. She has embraced her identity and become a role-model for kiwis aspiring to make the world a better place. Read about her journey below:

2015 was simply magic through the multiple opportunities and experiences I was privileged and honoured to be apart of, and the further opportunities that developed as a result. To this day I am amazed at how one opportunity can lead to several more, and the impacts that something as simple as a speech or essay can have on not only your life, but your whanau’s (family) too.

Never forget that when an opportunity knocks at your door, grasp it with both hands and run with it

I remember starting my journey as a Year 13 student, on the very first day of school in 2015.  I’ll never forget the moment my English teacher approached me and said, "Cait there is a speech competition that you should enter,” after some serious debate with Sir I accept the challenge of preparing and memorising a speech in just 6 days before the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country Regional Cyril Bassett VC Speech competition.

I went home that evening and brainstormed around potential approaches that I could take towards the topic - New Zealanders in WWI. It was surprising easy to define a specific element to discuss in my speech, I reflected upon a story my mother used to tell my sister and I as children, a story about a mysterious taonga (treasure) hanging on the wall in her home, which I discovered after extensive research and discussion was my great great great uncle Private Kurei Papuni, Soldier 16/493’s framed medallion. And so my journey began- challenging, emotional, special and out of my comfort zone are certainly some of the terms I would use to describe it.

ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett VC Speech Competition Finals

ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett VC Speech Competition Finals

I was privileged to win the Regional and National final for the ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett VC Speech competition which allowed me to travel to Gallipoli, Turkey not only as one of 25 national Youth Ambassadors but as a member of the New Zealand Defence force contingent travelling for the 100th Centenary Commemorations. It was here that I had the absolute honour of presenting my speech in front a capacity crowd and a worldwide online audience, then again after the official commemoration to His Excellency Prince Harry, defence force officials and dignitaries from around the world alongside other distinguished guests.

Caitlin at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli

Caitlin at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli

My journey to Gallipoli, as I have very briefly touched on, all began with a simple speech that doubled as an opportunity to research my tipuna (ancestor) and his medallion and to educate my whanau (family) about the whakapapa (genealogy), the history and the legacy of my new found hero Private Kurei Papuni and our ANZAC’s, in particular the 446 men of the Maori or Native Contingent that fought so valiantly alongside Kurei at Gallipoli.

I thought my journey would end there, but I have since realised that by taking every opportunity, you are destined for even more opportunities, successes and quite simply - greatness, acknowledging that this looks different to each and every one of us. In 2015, upon returning to little old Opotiki, I entered a competition alongside three other classmates, where we had to write a briefing (or an essay) to the Minister of Finance outlining three areas within New Zealand where social exclusion occurs and give policy recommendations that would mitigate the exclusion. It was from placing in the top ten briefings and then by presenting our recommendations to the New Zealand Treasury and various politicians that I was offered a summer internship with the Treasury. It was from writing a collective briefing/essay that I was able to live in Wellington and work at the Treasury for not only the summer but up until March 2017, as my role developed into a full-time position, working in areas such as event co-ordination and Maori and Pacific Capability.

I took on the challenge of these two significant opportunities which have turned out to be a incredibly special, beneficial and simply life changing. I have developed key networks, engaged in numerous other opportunities, created lifelong friendships, gained an abundance of knowledge- culturally, academically and abroad ... I am still in awe of some of the moments that I have been fortunate enough to experience.

I hope you take the following out of my journey… Never forget that when an opportunity knocks at your door, grasp it with both hands and run with it. It is important to take every opportunity no matter how big, small, hard or easy it may appear, because you never know what might become of it.

E tai maa, ina te ora o te tangata

Life simply doesn’t get more magic than this.

Caitlin, Abby, and Shannon (Youth Ambassadors) with local children, Turkey

Caitlin, Abby, and Shannon (Youth Ambassadors) with local children, Turkey