More and more Kiwis proud to be part of the solution

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Opinion Piece
Julie Chapman, KidsCan CEO and Founder

Back in 2005 when KidsCan started feeding and clothing students in low-decile schools the idea was surprising to many. The concept that in the land of milk and honey children were turning up to school barefoot, cold, and too hungry to learn was unbelievable to most people.

KidsCan faced judgemental responses everywhere, from people on the street to politicians. I heard it all, ‘If they can’t look after their own children, tough.’ It was because most New Zealanders were in denial about the problem of hardship in this country, choosing to believe instead if everyone just worked hard enough money would be plenty and life’s possibilities endless.

Requests to KidsCan from schools to help students who were disengaged from learning due to hunger and cold steadily increased year-on-year. We started out in 40 low-decile schools, now we’re providing food, raincoats, socks and shoes, and basic hygiene items to 675 schools in sixteen regions across New Zealand. In the build-up to the general election in September with policy announcements coming thick and fast some of the old sentiments I’ve been hearing for more than a decade are beginning to get airtime.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric in recent months ‘If you can’t feed them don’t breed them’, ‘Sterilise them’. But I must admit one of the things this election year will be remembered for is the heartening sound of many New Zealanders, including politicians, speaking up for their fellow Kiwis who are living in hardship. ‘Poverty’, ‘living in hardship, ‘a living wage’ these words are echoing across the country. This is a marked shift in attitude and public conversation.

You get a sense that finally it is being understood that it’s not right to tar everyone in hardship with the same brush. Doing so is a deflection tactic, it doesn’t reflect reality. The fact is everyone has their own story as to why they’re struggling to make ends meet.

People lose jobs all the time through no fault of their own and when they’ve been existing on low wages, with no ability to save, the consequences are instant and devastating. Take a moment to think how long could you last financially if you were made redundant tomorrow, or if your partner suffered a stroke? If you’re like the rest of us, it’s probably only a month or two before life would start to unravel.

I won’t say all parents are doing the right thing with their money, of course there are a minority who aren’t, but what I can tell you is, there are 295,000 children in hardship right now in New Zealand, and in the 12 years since I started KidsCan I can hand on heart say, that majority of parents are doing the best they can with what they have. Did you know that 45% of families in hardship have at least one parent in paid employment and 48% of families in hardship have only two children?

With the passing of time the myths and prejudices around families in hardship are being debunked and people are starting to think before judging or making generalisations about other families they’ve never met. Not caring for their children isn’t the cause of their hardship and it’s not as simple as budgeting better, especially when 60% of your income is going on rent. There’s little left for other necessities.

While we as a community are now more open to the fact that there are many reasons families end up in hardship, alongside that, we as a nation are beginning to grasp that there is only one way for them to escape it - with help from all of us. It’s not the child’s fault and we have the power to fix it, together.

A raincoat, shoes, health items and food. They are such simple things that help give our most vulnerable so much - warmth and some food in their tummies so their minds can be on learning and participating. But equally as important, they give them hope - hope that the future will be okay. That they can do this.

A past student from one of our partner schools in Wellington recently shared her story with us, expressing what a difference KidsCan made to her world. “I personally got one of your jackets and a pair of shoes. Because of having correct shoes, I got to participate in the art programmes and wood work classes. I carried on with my passion for art and building after intermediate and I'm currently building my own tiny house and working towards the licenses I need to be able to be a tattooist. I don't believe that I would have found my passions for these things if hadn't been part of those classes and you guys were the reason I could go.” 

Every Kiwi kid just like this young person should have hope in their lives, just like us adults cling to it ourselves.

There are currently 3,998 children waiting for KidsCan help. It’s in the best interests of all New Zealanders to invest in these children while they are young so they don’t grow up without hope, without a proper education and without a future. All that happens then is they repeat the cycle of hardship and cost society more on many fronts.

Thanks to those of you who are proudly and publicly being part of the solution, speaking out and supporting us in our efforts to ensure all Kiwi kids can reach their potential and contribute to a brighter future for New Zealand. You and your fellow caring Kiwis are making a difference - people power at its best bringing about positive change.