Geoff (Snow) Rameka and Dinny Haumoana Snowdon-Rameka
In every community there are always a few humble folk – those who go about helping others around them without expecting anything in return.
And most of the time they aren’t even aware of how much of an impact they make!
This issue, we’d like to introduce you to Geoff (Snow) Rameka and his wife Dinny – a Taupo couple who have been making their mark for years by leading cultural performances, teaching Kapa Haka, and being involved in the community in any way they can.
“Sometimes I am Robin and Dinny is Batman,” says Geoff. “And sometimes it is the other way around, but what is important is that we play a dual role in everything we do.”
Born and bred in Taupo, Geoff met Dinny at college, soon after they married then started a career in the Armed Forces. For a number of years they lived in Papakura, Auckland, where Geoff honed his performance skills and earned himself a place in the New Zealand Defence Force Kapa Haka group that went to the UK in 1997. By then the couple had started their family, and after 20 years it was time for Geoff to explore his second love – teaching.
The Rameka family spent time in Dinny’s family home in Tauranga, where they both worked at a local school. And like they did everywhere they had lived, they got involved in the community.
“It’s the same anywhere, we just love working with people. The school would say ‘can you help us with a camp’ or tutoring for Kapa Haka. Whatever they need or want, we just do it.
“It is about taking a family approach to everything, and our doors are always open.”
Dinny recalls a former Kapa Haka student of theirs that was from South Africa, who was a little shy to begin with, but went on to become the leader of the group three years later.
“He went to one of our overnight stays and was sad because he said that he couldn’t do his genealogy the way that the other students from New Zealand could. But he wanted to come from here, so we made it happen for him.
“Of course, we couldn’t ‘make him Maori’, but he was able to become part of Tuwharetoa – a member of our Iwi. He wanted to belong to our family, and we provided the gateway to achieve that.”
Now a teacher at Taupo-nu-a Tia College, Geoff is able to provide his students with not only the confidence to perform, but guidance for all those hard bits of growing up. And of course, always with Dinny by his side.
“Around here I am related to so many people, and we just enjoy the relationship with these kids, inside and outside school. Sometimes they crash and burn, and we will always try to do what we can to help to minimise the impact.
“We go on a journey with students, and people come and tell us ‘thank you for being there for my daughter/son’.
“But to us, these are just life things. To be a nice person. And I think that is why we like being involved with people, it is not just a today thing – it’s a relationship that is (hopefully) ongoing long after they have left school.”
Which is evident through some of the things they get asked to do – recently Dinny was the marriage celebrant for an ex-student, and Geoff was the MC. A team. The A-Team.
So what drives this community-minded couple to do what they do? Because to them family is important, and culture is important – and they also have high standards.
“We know we are the most successful tutors at Nui, because we are the only ones who have taken their group away and won competitions. And that’s because we see more than what is there in front of us – we see potential. Years ago one of the students asked, ‘why can’t we do an overseas trip?’ And we said, ‘well why can’t we?’.
“It was daunting, but there was no room for failure. We did whatever it took, and humbled ourselves to pick up pine seedlings, dig holes and anything else needed to fundraise. And we’ve always led the way in a lot of the things we have done – with four successful overseas trips under our belt, so far.
“We say – you can go anywhere you like, as long as you have a purpose for going there, and a drive to get you there. Basically, if there is a will, there is a way.”
And as if their day-to-day lives weren’t busy enough already, Geoff and Dinny also own and run The Haka Shop, a local tourist operation that provides authentic cultural experiences in the Great Lake Taupo Region. It’s a family business with the couple’s children, and now grandchildren, coming on board to perform at their purpose-made venue on the edge of town.
“It’s our passion. Being able to provide our town and our region something that our cousins in Rotorua have been doing for a hundred years. And we also often get called up to help with powhiri, even birthdays, 21sts, funerals – you name it, we will help if we are asked, but are always careful to not take over.”
Rolling out the welcome mat
A few years ago, Geoff was approached by David Trewavas (Taupo’s Mayor) to perform at the local citizen ceremony for new residents. And of course it was something the Rameka family jumped on board with. However it ended up being more than just a show – for Geoff it was an opportunity to share a story.
“I said that I wanted to represent Tuwharetoa and put it on the line with these people, who are going to be citizens of Taupo and New Zealand – this is what we want from you.
“The first thing was that this beautiful environment here – the mountains, rivers, lakes, geothermal – you need to understand it and get to know it like we do. When we look at the lake, we don’t see a body of water, we see an ancestor. It is a living, breathing thing; it is part of you.
“Secondly, don’t come here and lock yourself away from us in the outreaches of our town. You need to become a part of our community.
“And thirdly, I don’t care what sport you love or like, you’re in Aotearoa and rugby is the game, so handle it.”
And when Geoff ‘Snow’ Rameka asks you do to something, even in his laidback manner, you do it.