Speaking up . . . Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil Ethan Reille (17) has been named as one of 100 Kiwibank Local Hero Medallists for the 2022 New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Award. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Ethan Reille is proving a small town life can be a powerful one.

The Oamaru teenager was last week named as one of 100 Kiwibank Local Hero Medallists for the 2022 New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Award.

In the same week, he was also ‘‘extremely grateful and very humbled’’ to be announced as head boy at Waitaki Boys’ High School for next year.

Ethan moved to Oamaru from Wellington in 2018, and said switching city life for small town living had helped shape who he was as a person.

‘‘In Wellington I felt like a number . . . but down here you actually feel like a person, you get to know your community,’’ he said.

‘‘Opportunities opened up so quickly and opportunities were much bigger down here.’’

Not long after Ethan started at Waitaki Boys’, he got involved in the student council and helped organise a clean-up at the school.

He enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded people, and got a real buzz out of knowing he was helping others.

From there, he discovered the Waitaki Youth Council.

Within a week of reaching out to ask how he could get involved, he was attending his first meeting and a year later, he was appointed as chairman.

He joined the youth council around the same time as the first outbreak of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The global pandemic had upended the lives of young people, affecting both their studies as well as their participation in society.

For Ethan, it empowered him to find his voice.

He spoke up for secondary school pupils on a national stage when changes were made to the end-of-year NCEA exams without student consultation, and became a national spokesman for Schools Strike 4 Climate, helping to organise student action at a local and national level.

He was also selected as one of 15 young New Zealanders to be part of the The Hive, a national group that aimed to bridge the gap between the youth voice and central government.

‘‘Over the past couple of years, I’ve really stood to the side and realised how powerful young people’s voices are becoming and we do deserve to be heard as much as anyone else in the community,’’ he said.

‘‘When it comes down to it, no matter what the issue is or what topic we’re facing, it’s making sure young people are having a say.’’

At a local level, in his role as Waitaki Youth Council chairman, he helped organise, and volunteered at, Covid-19 vaccination clinics across the district, and worked to keep youth connected during Covid lockdowns.

He is also a passionate advocate for youth mental health, the housing crisis and the Pasifika community, and works part-time at Stronger Waitaki to help address the issues.

It was a ‘‘complete surprise’’ to be named as a Kiwibank Local Hero Medallist.

‘‘It was just quite humbling really, to get the recognition,’’ he said.

‘‘I think, and I’ve said to a lot of people, this award reflects what we’re all doing in the community — it’s not just an award for me, it’s an award for everyone that we’re working with and that we’re doing the work for.’’

Ethan planned to stay in Oamaru when he leaves school at the end of next year. He wanted to continue his work for the council, and get a better understanding of local issues.

With a keen interest in politics, he would like to move back to Wellington in the future to ‘‘further that journey and see where I go’’.

‘‘But right now my heart’s still here in Waitaki and I’m wanting to stay here and keep doing what I’m doing.’’