Henare O’Keefe

Empowering individuals, building communities and championing social change


Henare is a humble, loving and caring man of the people proactively working against violence. He has a self-driven, hands-on approach that spearheads practical initiatives to build community, especially in disadvantaged areas; reversing negative stereotypes; all with a can-do energy and a solid belief in the goodness of people.

Henare O’Keefe is a big man with an even bigger heart. It is a heart filled with love for the afflicted, downtrodden and the needy. His approach to those in trouble is to surround them with love and to give them the support to make positive changes in their own lives.

Henare ticks all the boxes when it comes to empowering individuals, building communities and championing social growth. He does this by lobbying central government over social housing needs in his community, as well as his late-night operation of mobile BBQ Tunu Tunu and the way he battles family violence head on.

Henare knows what it is like to grow up with not many material possessions. He was raised in a low socio-economic household in Ruatoria, but his large family had strong core values that taught him what is important in life. It is these values that have given him a deep commitment to uplift and inspire his community, his people and his country. He has a thirst to reverse negative social statistics and is dedicated to combating family violence, mentoring youth and assisting in the reintegration of prisoners.

But Henare’s remarkable story does not end there. He and his wife Pam have fostered more than 200 children over a period of 17 years. He had a simple way of welcoming a new child into the home, show them love.

Many of these children have gone on to achieve their goals and aspirations, but there was one little boy from a Havelock North tinny house who has found greatness. Phillip Rhodes is now a world renowned opera singer and he credits his success to the stable and loving home Henare and Pam gave him.

Previous experience
For many years Henare has worked across New Zealand against violence in the family and community. This has entailed fronting the New Zealand Police Keeping Ourselves safe programme (KOS) in tandem with the Police Youth Education Service (YES).

In 2008 Henare responded to violence in his own community in a very personal way by organising the Enough is Enough hikoi with the purpose of galvanising public concern and action. Over four thousand people joined that momentous march. The hikoi sparked a number of community-generated projects and Henare has worked at the centre of most of them.

He and Pam have fed hundreds of families with their mobile BBQ TunuTunu often from midnight through to early hours of the morning. Traversing the streets of Flaxmere and throughout the region. Henare took TunuTunu to Christchurch during the earthquake and it became the drop off point for many of the families.

In 2010 he was instrumental in setting up the Flaxmere Community Garden, and to this day it has fed hundreds of families free of charge. It’s never locked, open 24/7.

In 2012 he set up the Flaxmere Boxing Academy which now has 150 registered members, consisting of men, women and children. Henare says “we are creating warriors in the ring, ladies and gentleman in the community and champions in the home”.

For over 20 years Henare has volunteered his time to visiting prisons and reintegrating inmates back into the community. He sources permanent jobs, houses them and involves them in all his community initiatives.

In 2010 Henare compiled the first of the Flaxmere Heroes Calendars. It has since gone on to become a much sort after item. Every home in Flaxmere receives a calendar free, hand delivered personally by Henare, Pam and their supporters. Henare says “for many families this is the only Xmas present they will receive”.

Henare travels the entire country visiting schools and communities spreading his message of love. Throughout the country he is known as the “International Ambassador of Love”.

2010 Awarded the Lloyd Morgan Lions Clubs Charitable Trust Honoured Membership. Only the second time in its 30 year history it has been awarded to someone outside of Lions.
2011 Awarded the Queen’s Service Medal.
2012 named Kiwi Bank New Zealand’s Community Hero of the year. Chosen ahead of the Pike River Dam disaster and the Christchurch earthquake.
2013 Presented with the Paul Harris Fellow award by Rotary International.
2017 Appointed the official Ambassador for Hastings by the Mayor- named Keep New Zealand Beautiful Ambassador