THE POOR KID

Monday, September 30, 2019

I actually don’t know how I survived my childhood.

I have vivid memories of a loaf of bread turning up. My brother and I sat there and ate the entire thing. I remember eating swedes and turnips - grown for sheep and cattle, because we were starving. I remember one winter our feet froze to our jandals because we had no shoes.

As a kid, I didn’t know that life could be any different. Hunger became so normal. It’s like something’s missing, but you don’t know what. I didn’t know that I could be warm, or feel full from a meal. But at lunchtimes at school I’d sit there and watch the other kids and think ‘why have they got that and I haven’t?’ I couldn’t get my head around it.

At school I was always in trouble. I couldn’t concentrate because I was so hungry. They always made me do lines: “I must not do this….” But that’s what kids do when they have no food and they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re insecure. They play up. I wished that someone would have figured out that we were hungry, we had no clothes and were freezing cold.

For most people the poverty cycle continues. As a kid, being told I was a ‘stupid Māori’, I believed I was never going to get anywhere. I knew I couldn’t go to university - I wanted to study psychology - because coming from a state house there was no way I could pay. There was no point getting good grades because I couldn’t do anything with them - poverty killed that dream.

But I’ve always had quite a fierce work ethic. I got my first job at 10. I did a milk round, worked in the dairy, and peeled spuds in the fish and chip shop. I was earning money, so I could buy some chips. I realised if I could earn $5 a week, I had a tiny bit of autonomy and there was a chance that things could change.

I left home, and school, at 15. In my head, I felt much older. I didn’t get a childhood at all. When I look at my own kids, at how childlike they are, it just makes me smile because I think ‘this is how it should be’. They should be thinking about monster trucks, cars and playing monopoly.’ The opposite to what I experienced.

My first proper job was in finance. It was cool. I worked damn hard. It turns out I’m not stupid. I went overseas, and ended up in a global IT firm, earning six figures, sometimes flying to three countries a week. But 99% of my colleagues had one or two degrees, and I always felt so much less than everybody else. Like I didn’t fit, like I was just faking it. And that’s not a great feeling when you’re speaking at conferences. The shitty childhood stays with you.

But I developed a really high resiliency or tolerance for life. If things don’t go my way I think ‘well that’s just life’ and I move on. It’s also given me some cool mantras I use with my kids. ‘Never give up.’

Now, as a mum, I’m having to relearn how things should be. Really basic stuff like what’s a normal meal portion size because when you haven’t had food you don’t know. I’m over the top about food and clothes with my kids. Their plates are heaving with fruit, salad and veggies. At school the teachers laugh that I’ve put so many clothes on my son he’s sweating. You’re not going to be cold on my watch!

It’s been in my heart for 20 years to sponsor a kid. But I thought ‘I really can’t go offshore. There’s so much need here.’ Up north it just looks like my childhood. That’s why I chose KidsCan. I know my tiny sponsorship is not much right now while I’m studying. I have $800 a week and rent is $530 so I need to be very creative. But it’s a priority to let kids know they are seen.

If KidsCan had existed when I was at school, I would have felt seen. When you grow up in poverty, you feel invisible. You really feel like you don’t exist, like you’re a shell. Because no one gives a ... You feel like no one cares, no one sees you.

But give a child food, a jacket and some shoes, they suddenly have a tiny bit of mana. A little bit of belief in themselves. If I can help one kid have a warmer winter and not experience what I went through, it’s a no-brainer.

Because someone sees you. You matter.

Show a Kiwi kid in need that they do matter and gift them the mana they deserve by becoming a monthly donor. If you can, please donate at KidsCan.org.nz, because with your help, kids can do anything. Donate today.