Walking in the shoes of Kiwi kids in need is not that easy

Walking in the shoes of Kiwi kids in need is not that easy

Monday, March 26, 2018

OPINION: "Shoes", it is probably too fancy a word for the dilapidated, scuffed, threadbare objects in the photo.

But it is a real photo taken by a teacher at a school in Auckland of 'shoes' that belonged to one of her students.

For the intermediate-aged boy, these shoes, disintegrating daily, were the only thing he had to protect his feet on his walk to and from school, to wear when he took part in sport, to wear through the cold and wet of winter hoping against hope they would dry out overnight before he had to put them back on them the next morning because his parents can't afford to buy him another pair.

And he isn't alone. As the Founder of KidsCan, I get the phone calls and emails from principals about the confronting real-life examples of just what a struggle daily life has become for many families. As soon as the school gates opened for 2018 one teacher told me, 50 of the school's 250 students had arrived without suitable footwear.

Shoes are one of those basic items families living in material hardship often go without. When it comes down to a choice of paying the rent, keeping the power on or buying food, shoes get pushed aside.

KidsCan gave this young boy a new pair of shoes - shoes that actually protect his feet and allow him to participate.

I believe the Government and all New Zealanders want the same thing, a country that is a great place for children to grow up. However, we need to admit that despite the Government's new families package coming in July, this is not a quick fix. Life is not going to improve for children and their families overnight.

Continuing to raise incomes is the right thing to do, but families only just surviving now in households that earn less than 50 per cent of the median income would need a significant increase for it to make any lasting difference to their material hardship.

Small increases will be 'eaten up' by costs such as increasing rent and petrol costs, it won't stay in their pockets able to be spent on the basics, like a pair of shoes or a raincoat, their children are missing out on through no fault of their own.

In another phone call, a school from Northland recently asked us for soap as they have had to open the school shower to their students before, during and after school.

It happened after the principal became concerned about falling attendance and when talking with students he realised this was due to the embarrassment of not being able to take care of their personal hygiene. All because the students either didn't have access to a shower, running water, hot water, or any basic products to clean with whilst washing.

The tales of material hardship from school grounds confirm what we know to be true - things are getting harder for those living in hardship. We're now feeding 32,000 children a week, most of whom need KidsCan food daily, in 16 regions across New Zealand.

Yes, there are a lot of compassionate Kiwis out there, and we're lucky to have the support of our principal partner Meridian Energy, our supporters and sponsors, but the fact remains as a country we need to acknowledge just how bad material hardship is for children in our own backyard.

Thousands of hard-working families here in New Zealand, not overseas but right here, do not have enough money to provide the basics and live with dignity. The Salvation Army's recent report revealed a 'frightening' rise in families suffering from food poverty. While the stocktake of New Zealand's housing showed homelessness is getting worse.

The Colmar Brunton Better Futures 2017 research released in January this year revealed that New Zealanders considered the number one priority for achieving a sustainable future is relieving our country from poverty.

So, what can make 2018 the year of change? What I'm interested in witnessing this year is government policy that drives real change for children and their families. I want to see families in stable housing, not having to endure the stress of frequently moving because they can't afford the rent, being able to provide their children with three good meals a day.

We want children to have their own bed, their own towel, their own toothbrush. Children to have a raincoat and more than one pair of shoes. For young women to be able to live with dignity and have access to feminine hygiene products. KidsCan provided more than 18,000 sanitary items to schools in 2017 and the need is increasing.

Child poverty isn't just costing the families living in hardship, it's costing us all. According to the 2017 Child Poverty Monitor the economic cost to the country is estimated to be as much as $10 billion a year. That's why KidsCan is focused on being the fence at the top of the cliff, not just the ambulance at the bottom, when it comes to tackling poverty in this country.

It's vital we empower the next generation, our Kiwi kids to be actively involved in reaching their full potential. As one principal told us last year, "some kids cling to the stuff they get from KidsCan like a lifeline. When everything else in your life is difficult, the gift of food, a jacket in the rain or shoes are life changing".

Living in poverty and the shame that goes with that can have an immense impact on a child's learning. Most parents are doing the best they can but real change is going to take years and KidsCan intends to be there for as long as we are needed because we believe every child, no matter where they come from, deserves to live with dignity.

We've made our choice, our choice is to be part of the solution, what will yours be?

To help ensure no child has to endure walking to school in worn out shoes, donate now: https://goo.gl/fgyY9Y