Taonga – social media influencer
Taonga Peita turned four years old in May. He’s probably the youngest social media influencer in New Zealand with 58,000 followers on Facebook.
But a spike a year ago sent him way above that. A video of Taonga singing and jiving to Alicia Keys’ This Girl is on Fire went viral just before lockdown with millions of views. Now every video posted and every milestone Taonga reaches are watched and celebrated by people across the globe.
Taonga, who has Down syndrome, is the youngest of the three Peita brothers. There’s Dallas, who turns seven in June and Grayson, who is five. But it’s Taonga who hogs the limelight on The Peita Boys Facebook page.
His Mum, Miranda Shackell, says she didn’t know what she was getting into when she started posting, and says the interest does ebb and flow. “I might put a video up and think this is amazing and everyone is going to love it – and no one sees.”
When she posted a video of Taonga bopping to a cover of This Girl is on Fire on TV, it had a huge impact. “It’s a video of him sitting on his brother’s bed in his pyjamas singing along with Angelica Hale from America’s Got Talent. I think people could see how gorgeous he was; how enthusiastic he was. He was just singing along.”
It was timing too. The world was locking down and people were ready for something to make them smile. They were hanging out to see a family who were holding it all together and having fun.
“The reason I did it was that it made people happy. He wasn’t reciting the periodic table or anything like that. It was just cute.”
Miranda says she started posting without thinking too much about it. “I am possibly a bit naive. Some people are paranoid about the Government watching. But there is nothing interesting about us.”
Other families who have children with disabilities would disagree. They think the Peitas have some kind of magic touch. But Miranda insists that they are an ordinary family that struggles too and it’s only the highlights of their lives that she posts, not the other stuff.
She says she has struggled to balance all her commitments too, and recently gave up her role as a special education needs coordinator to support her husband Tyson in their Northland painting business and to spend more time being a mum.
“But I am hanging in there. One negative thing can just spiral you out of control, so I feel for those people who are in lockdown or a series of lockdowns on the other side of the world.
“I sometimes get people asking for advice on speech/language therapy and even physio. My reply is that I am not an expert, but this has worked for Taonga. I try to answer everyone.
“People say it – ‘You are such an amazing Mum’. But you can’t carve a Taonga out of something that is not carvable. Taonga is willing to learn and he is such a sponge. We have been really lucky with Taonga with his ability to learn and his ability to remember.”
Realising how much impact The Peita Boys Facebook page has, Miranda sees opportunities to encourage parents who learn their child has Down syndrome and to let them know that there are options other than deciding to terminate a pregnancy.
“Because you don’t know what you are going to get. I don’t want the extra 21st chromosome to make people think that it’s a life sentence. You are given information by medical professionals who don’t see the good stuff.”
Taonga started walking in December and by February he was really on the move. Miranda has shared his progress and his physio sessions, and his followers have cheered every step.
“He was taking two or three steps at a time and every now and then it would be up to five steps. I can’t wait to share it because I know they can’t wait to see what he can do next. They really celebrate with us.”
Taonga has followers in Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Britain and South America. Some of the messages come written in Spanish and Miranda has a Colombian friend who translates them for her.
“I had a lady message me from Tasmania saying, ‘My three-year-old daughter loves Taonga and she regularly tells me that Taonga is her best friend’.” The little girl recently had a birthday and Miranda sent a video of Taonga wishing her happy birthday. “People feel like they know him and us.”
Miranda might have started in a random way, but she is now far more intentional in her determination to share the gift of joy that Taonga brings into her family’s life.
“I intend to increase awareness and understanding and acceptance of Down syndrome and all the differences.”
Visit The Peita Boys Facebook page.
Caption: There are only two years and 11 months between the oldest Peita boy and the youngest – (from left) Dallas, Grayson and Taonga.