Our community is pretty vulnerable. There’s a lack of warm, affordable housing here and it’s not uncommon for families in our early childhood centre to be living in someone’s garage. Others, homeless, have been split up as a family because it’s easier to find one spare bed in a house rather than five. Half the children come with no lunch or the cheaper packaged food that has no nutritional value. That leads to other problems such as cavities and low immunity. But some weeks parents are choosing, “Am I going to pay the rent, buy tyres so I can get the car registered, or pay the power?”
It’s so hard on our preschoolers and it’s extremely hard for their parents too, who are feeling quite helpless and hopeless about their situations. They are courageous and they are champions but they’re just suffering - socially, mentally, physically, spiritually. Some have lost jobs due to Covid and there are not a lot of places to find other work. You try to teach resilience but it’s too hard on people facing mountains.
We have created a non-judgemental space for families and we work really closely with them. We run on the smell of an oily rag and it’s because we feed, we clothe, we teach and we look after the whole whānau.
We pick children up if it’s wet and they can’t get to the centre. We can’t afford a van but it’s just something you do, because what’s the alternative? They don’t come. We get children’s clothes from the op shops and wash them and bundle them up and pop them in kids’ bags or have them available for whānau to take.
One of our teachers bakes and makes extra kai, and teachers are always sharing their lunches. We gather food so the families can take it home. And even though we know many families are struggling they only take what they need. They always make sure there’s enough food to go around for everybody else. We have been criticised: “You can’t give handouts forever and a day.” But to be honest it’s not a hand out. It’s a hand up and it’s about these children and the wellbeing of the whānau.
We need help. We have a lot of older siblings who go to the primary school right next door to us and there’s KidsCan support up there. They look lovely in their warm jackets while their younger siblings aren’t. We’re on the waiting list for the charity’s early childhood programme, which would mean our beautiful children would have access to healthier lunches, jackets and shoes too.
It would be amazing to free up the money we’re spending for resources. If you saw our playground it’s so sparse it’s just not funny. We joke about it a lot: “Oh but we use our natural resources and go for lots of walks," but still…. Amongst the privately owned centres around us who have the bells and whistles we do stick out a bit. But what we don’t have materially we certainly make up for in other areas. We give lots of cuddles and positive messages that feed souls.
It’s all worth it. None of us would change our jobs, ever. We talk about it often. Just seeing the kids happy makes it worthwhile. For the parents, sharing their burdens helps them. But it is a lot to deal with - and we need all the support we can get.
128 early childhood centres are waiting for KidsCan’s help. To help support vulnerable preschoolers with food, shoes, raincoats and health items, sign up to support a child today.