Running a business, Te Ao & Call of Duty

Torah and Acacia Paoo

August 27, 2020

Acacia and Torah Paoo were nominated for Aotearoa Māori Business Leader Awards and that’s how I found out about them. The two sisters are running Ahikā Candles by Rangatahi - upcycling used glass bottles to make & sell candles. The work they are doing lay such important foundations for other rangatahi to learn about business, environment and being independent. In their interview, Acacia and Torah talk about Ahikā Candles, Te Ao Māori, school, Call of Duty and being teenagers.

Let’s start by talking a bit about you two! What do you do? Do you study, go to school, what do you like doing for fun, what are you passionate about?

Torah: I'm a Year 12 student at Ngā Puna O Waiōrea Western Springs College. If I'm not doing my homework you will probably find me watching Avatar - The Last Air Bender and The Legends of Korra otherwise I like to kickback and watch movies.

I am passionate about food, Kapa Haka and my little brother. I like cooking, finding different recipes but most of all, I like eating and because I eat I stay as physically active as possible (I usually drag my sister with me). My sister and I are in our school kapa haka roopu Ngā Puna O Waiōrea, practices and campaigns are hard but they are good and help us keep fit, as for my little brother, he’s cute and clever and just like all little brothers, he’s annoying.

Acacia: I’m a Year 11 Student at Ngā Puna O Waiōrea Western Springs College. In my spare time I like playing Call of Duty, my cousins and I team up (sometimes we let my dad in our squad) - it is a way that my cousins and I keep in contact, whilst we play, we talk, laugh and catch up especially during lockdown. Music plays a big part in my daily life, it helps keep me levelled, it's always around me, if it's not playing on my phone or out of speakers I usually have a guitar in my hands, I get a bit ‘moody’ when I'm not surrounded by music.

I am passionate about Kapa Haka, Te Reo Māori and my education. When I leave school I want to do something with Te Reo Māori but I'm not sure yet. Torah is always trying to get me to go for jogs with her, she thinks I hate it but I argue with her because it's fun.

Tell us more about Ahikā Candles by Rangatahi. How did you start it & what was the inspiration behind it? How did it change over the last year?

Our uncle showed mum a clip of someone making candles out of drinking glasses, mum thought ‘why not do it with drinking bottles’ and voila! The idea of Ahikā Candles was born.

We all came together and talked about what creating a business with repurposing recyclable  materials would look like and the mission of Ahikā Candles was set. One of the main ideas we came up with was ‘recycle with us’, this is where we asked whānau to save their alcohol bottles instead of putting them in the recycle bins.

Our household has always been environmentally conscious of our carbon footprint, so for us, repurposing materials with the intent to reduce carbon emissions was a natural progression. It just happens that we are able to create a product that we can sell online and at markets to make money for ourselves and our whānau.

Acacia and Torah next to a white board with post-it notes on it

What were some of the challenges and highlights of having your own business and working together?

Torah: My sister is a challenge 😒 She will tell you the same thing.

One of the highlights of having our own business is we can decide when we want to work and it fits around our schedule. Sometimes we are full-on preparing for markets and online orders but it's exciting to see people enjoy our product.

I know both Acacia and I have enjoyed training our little cousin Lauren (12yrs) to be the kaitiaki in her region and to see her use our business plan. The money she made from her candles has helped pay for her school trip to Rarotonga (but it was cancelled thanks to Covid-19) so now she has heaps of money lol

Acacia: For me one of the challenges that I am always faced with is working with my sister, we ALWAYS argue…...about EVERYTHING. Having said that, she's probably the best one for me to work with because we keep each other on task and to always push forward.

When we first started our business and we needed the money to get us off the ground we both felt pressured because 1. We had to raise $3k in 24 days and 2. We wanted to keep people updated and get followers to sponsor us so I always had to be on to it with the video clips we posted on Kickstarter and our social media platforms.

What is the vision behind Ahikā Candles? If it was incredibly “successful” by your own measures, what would it look like?

Success in Ahikā Candles would be having more rangatahi become kaitiaki in different regions in Aotearoa with everyone being supported by their local economy. Success is providing a platform where rangatahi are encouraged to target deficits in a system and create their own solutions to global issues.

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Would be awesome to hear about your mum Roimata. She seems like a driving energetic force supporting you two! What role did she play in Ahikā Candles?

Yes, mum has had a huge part in our lives and has influenced us in regards of Tikanga Māori and how we were brought up in Te Ao Māori, this connection gives a link with Papatuanuku and how we view the world in both Te Ao Māori and the outside world. Having that belief system has been a driving force for us to start Ahikā. We are reliant on our environment because we are a reflection of it. “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” loosely translated means “We are a reflection of our environment”.

I am so incredibly inspired by your connection to your roots and Te Ao Māori. Could you please share how it influences your work and the work of Roimata?

I can't talk about how Te Ao Māori influences mum because she thinks A LOT and she has her own whakaaro (ideas) but I can tell you that Tikanga Māori is an important part of our lives.

Mum is fluent in Te Reo and would only korero to us in Te Reo from the time we were born. Both her and dad agreed they wanted all of their kids to be fluent in Te Reo. They enrolled us in Kohanga Reo and Kura Reo at Te Kura Akonga o Manurewa and now we are at Ngā Puna O Waiōrea. All of our schooling has been Ao Māori as well as our home life, we are privileged to be taught by the teachers we have had as well as the teachers we have now - mum and dad being our lifelong teachers. Our whānau on both sides (Cook Island and Māori) keep us connected to our whakapapa (genealogy), our grandparents and manawa a whenua (home). How does this influence us? I don’t think it's about influence but more about how our connection is displayed by us.

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What do you see yourself doing in 10-20 years?

Torah: I see myself  building and owning my own designed cafe with my own recipes and sweets and being my own boss. Seeing my family walk with a smile on their face and knowing that I will let them eat in for free (only if I feel like it).

Acacia: Umm I’m not 100% sure yet, but I know that I want to study toward furthering matauranga Māori both personally and globally.

What do you think we can all do better to support our younger generation? What do we still suck at as a society?

Torah: It pains me on a daily basis to see rangatahi cast aside by not being listened to but rather being told what to do. We have some really good ideas if people would just listen. On the other hand, it’s hard for rangatahi to find people who can walk with them to help them achieve their goals. I know adults would like to say there are heaps of people to talk to but the processes to access these people are often designed and sanctioned by adults.

Acacia: Racism sux, subtle racism and accepted racism sux even more! Our society likes to think we aren't racist but we are. My friends and I experience this on the daily from the lady on the train looking down on us because we are singing to the student who lives out west looking down on us who live in south - this is what I feel sux about our society.

All of us feel a bit lost sometimes and not sure what we should do with our lives -  What do you do when you feel like that yourself?

Both: Karakia (prayer) - Karakia is one resource when we feel lost. Because there is a higher power who can take our pain and lift us out of despair.  Whānau - having whānau around just to feel comfort and love.

Torah: When I feel lost I like being physically active like working out or going over to my cousins’ house and having a dmc late at night or night rides.

Acacia: When I’m feeling lost I like to distract myself by doing my homework, going to my cousins’ houses for sleepovers. I usually tell people I am okay because I'm not a big fan of trusting anybody besides my 3 cousins and that is fine with me. I keep myself physically active or just drown myself on online games like Call Of Duty with my cousins because it's fun and keeps me distracted. I also plug my headphones in and go for walks to peacefully start my day off.

What are some of your proudest moments?

Having an opportunity to share our story with you. We were also featured on Te Ao news. Being awarded the new Kaitiakitanga award from our school prize giving and watching our cousin Lauren use our business plan to help her fundraise and support her whānau.

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What’s next for you? Do you have any plans for the next few years - things that you want to do? Personally or as part of Ahikā Candles?

Torah: In all honesty, I just want to pass NCEA and get accepted into Uni. Hopefully, that will help me achieve my goal of building and owning my cafe.

Acacia: In a few years I would like to go to University and learn new knowledge about Te Ao Māori. I would like to get a good job so when I'm old I’ll have everything I need but for now I'm just going to see what happens.

Our goal with Ahikā Candles is to get Kaitiaki in every region who can create products founded on repurposed materials and having an active part in the local economy.

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here?

Our mum’s story is pretty cool. Roimata Taniwha-Paoo she's the founder of Soaps by Roi but she also has a mean story with her walk in Te Ao Māori and Rongoa Māori.

Check out another story!

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