Monday, May 27, 2024

Why Ruby Tui’s our new ambassador.

Ruby Tui has won the hearts of New Zealanders – not only through her rugby, but because she uses her voice to champion children’s wellbeing. She has candidly shared her own story of survival and her tenacious journey to sporting stardom. We’re proud to welcome her as a KidsCan ambassador - and we took her to visit one of our partner schools.

Twelve awestruck faces are fixed on Black Ferns superstar Ruby Tui. The world-renowned athlete sits cross-legged amongst the Girls Sevens team from Manurewa Intermediate, doling out heartfelt life lessons. She is living the dream, and her message is clear - they can live it too.

She knows she is speaking to students from one of the poorest parts of Auckland. Sport can be their pathway out, but it takes more than skill: “The difference between a good rugby player and a great one - the great ones are good off the field as well,” she tells them.

It’s clear the perks of her position still astound her. She describes how when flying business class there is a ‘full on bar on the plane, with table and chairs!’ How everything she wears - ‘hats, hoodies, socks, pants’ - is free. How there are life-changing overseas contracts. “You can buy your mum a house, buy your granddad anything. It's really amazing.”

Ruby didn’t have this kind of inspiration as a child. In her book ‘Straight up’, she writes of times when her family was ‘miserably poor’, and she had no support, and no hope. Now, the celebrated player doesn’t miss a chance to help others - which is why she’s signed up to be KidsCan’s newest ambassador.

“My upbringing, my childhood, I know how important it is to have the support that's required to reach your potential. I know what it's like to not have role models and not have that support,” she says.

“And I've seen KidsCan firsthand, with my own family members, supporting my family and schools. I've seen it works. I've seen the days that it makes for these kids. So, when I had the opportunity to link up with KidsCan it was a no-brainer.”

Every morning, up to 200 students pass through the school’s lively breakfast club, starting their day fuelled by KidsCan. “If you don’t have food at home you can come to school and they’ll provide you food,” one of the girls tells Ruby.

“Even if I’d already had breakfast, I’d have the breakfast club,” Ruby grins. “Because it’s hard being athletes, eh? Hard running back and forth, passing so beautifully. Sometimes we might need two breakfasts! We’ll go to breakfast club twice!”

The wharekai officially opens at 7.15am, but students whose parents work early shifts arrive much earlier. They put the jugs on and start making toast for their peers. The school’s effusive social worker Shalene Hudson is there every day, making toasties with spaghetti, baked beans and cheese as she chats to students. It’s a chance for her to engage with anyone who might need her support.

“When you see them happy and laughing and being with their peers, for me, that's what school is all about,” Shalene says. “And being a social worker to have happy children in a school - that's huge. I just feel that if you come with a good full tummy, a good attitude, you can pursue anything

in the school. Everything is achievable. We're very, very thankful for what KidsCan provides to our school.”

This is a school that won’t let poverty determine its students’ chances of success. The beautifully designed buildings offer rich opportunities, and students and their families are wrapped in support. Attendance rates are more than 90%. Everyone wants to be here.

Ruby is a huge believer in the power of community - she’s not just a KidsCan ambassador, she donates every month too.

“KidsCan’s ethos that every kid should reach their potential, it just speaks right to my heart. And part of my values as a person is to support those around you because you never know when you're going to need it too.”