What is the value of a Kiwi childhood? This Christmas, Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety – The Children’s Charity, asks New Zealanders who have enough to consider helping those families who don’t.
Children and young people make up nearly 25 percent of New Zealand’s population – that’s 1.12 million Kiwis under the age of 18.
Twenty percent of these Kiwi children – over 200,000 children – are growing up in families that are struggling financially, with half of those experiencing outcomes that are bad, if not worse, than most comparable OECD countries.
Their childhood is far from idyllic.
It is an inescapable truth that we have a serious child poverty problem in our country. Today, twice as many children live below the poverty line than did in 1984. Poverty affects children disproportionately, as they have no power to change their circumstances.
What does poverty look like through the eyes of a child? It might mean that you don’t have your own bed, or you sleep on the couch or you share a bed with your siblings or parents, and in winter you all sleep in one room to keep warm. It might mean that the family shares one towel, you don’t have your own toothbrush and you don’t have enough changes of underwear for the week.
Being poor might mean you don’t start school on the first day because your parents can’t afford your uniform or stationery; you can’t attend school trips and camp along with your classmates and are left behind at school. When other kids are talking about the sports they played on the weekend, you can’t contribute because there’s not enough money in the household budget to pay for sports fees, uniform or even petrol to get you to practice or games.
You may know little of the world outside your street as petrol and public transport is too expensive; and as for owning your own bike or digital device, you share one with others in your class.
These children are in the midst of this daily grind, through no fault of their own.
This is the reality for nearly one in three Kiwi kids.
At Variety – the Children’s Charity we believe that every child deserves opportunities to reach their potential.
For me, growing up in New Zealand was idyllic. My family wasn’t wealthy but as children we had our own beds, we never considered where our next meal was coming from, and we enjoyed the many opportunities presented to us – whether that was playing sports, going to the beach, or actively participating in all school activities.
Now, through the work of Variety, I am proud to say that for 3,272 New Zealand children whose parents can’t afford the basics, their reality has changed to look more like my own experience. Through the kindness and generosity of their sponsors who pay $45 a month, they now have warm bedding, school uniforms and medical supplies. They can attend school trips and play sports.
Since we launched the Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme five years ago, our decision to support New Zealand children this way has been validated again and again.
For some children we support, their dream has been as simple as being able to go on a school camp. Being able to choose one piece of clothing that is really theirs. Or having a school uniform that actually fits.
Joseph sums it up beautifully: “Thank you so much for my new school uniform, new school shoes and especially my warm clothes for winter. I feel so happy when I go to school now because all my class don’t tease me anymore.”
A mum phoned this week to say Kiwi Kid Sponsorship is a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out,’ telling us she feels empowered, and that she woke up that morning with tears in her eyes because she is so grateful to Variety and our donors. Her children now have uniforms after they were bullied for months, and her disabled daughter will go to camp for the first time this year.
Children and their parents write to their sponsors regularly telling them how much it means that they can participate in the activities that many of us take for granted. So many write to say how much it means that they are warm at night, or that they have relief for their eczema or that they have a school uniform that fits.
We may not think of a school uniform as an opportunity, but it is. It’s an opportunity to fit in, to gain confidence, to move from sitting at the back of the class to the front.
We are fortunate to have a free education system in New Zealand, but access to all the great things our schools provide can cost money. Our kids can’t participate if they don’t have the right uniform or funds to pay for exams or activity fees or digital devices or trips or camps.
We know that every child is an individual, and every family is facing its own set of challenges. Which is why Variety provides tailored support to meet the needs of each child – it’s what sets us apart. We know that not all children need the same things. And that every child’s dreams are different.
Sometimes, a child dreams of having new shoes for winter. Some children dream of learning to play the piano. Some dream of belonging to a rugby or netball team that plays on Saturday mornings. Sometimes, a child dreams of having new stationery for when school starts.
Most children just want to fit in with their friends.
Kiwis are fair-minded. We like to think the kids down the road or in the next suburb have the same chances of being a doctor, a software engineer or a Silver Fern. We want all kids to be able to go out and play a sport they love. Or play an instrument. We want to see all children growing up healthy, and happy, and as ambitious as their dreams allow. We believe that all children – all Kiwi kids – deserve the same opportunities.
Still, there are 370 Kiwi kids waiting to be handpicked from Variety’s waiting list by sponsors.
That’s 370 kids whose lives are waiting to be impacted by somebody willing to give them an opportunity to have the Kiwi childhood they deserve and so many of us experienced. We’re looking for 370, will you be one?
Kiwi Kid Sponsorship is about much more than $45 per month. It provides vital support for children to participate, feel validated, join in, and follow their dreams.
It’s a programme that bridges social boundaries and connects Kiwis to each other. It inspires children from both families to want to become adults who give back.
This Christmas season, Variety is encouraging families who have the opportunity to sponsor a Kiwi kid to consider becoming one of the great Kiwis creating brighter futures for our local children, one child at a time.
Donate now to sponsor a child in need. You can make a difference with your family this Christmas – that is the greatest gift of all. One-off donations and top-up Christmas donations are also available.