Talking to a young man, a cadet I was mentoring from this area, he once shared with me that they grew up washing and getting water from the nearby stream. His comment was ‘I didn’t know I was poor – I had a great upbringing’. He now has his own young family and is doing very well for himself.
My first observation - is what is it we are actually talking about today? Is it tackling poverty – and all the definitions that currently come with this – or are we tackling the loss of hope, the lack of aspirations, the sense of not belonging, feeling no sense of value... that many of our people carry?
When we talk about poverty – I believe it is so much more than a material…physical ‘thing’. It is addressing the poverty of the ‘soul’ that I believe truly lies at the core of the issue.
There are many examples of young people that have grown up in an environment of not having much in the way of material things, but have had great wealth in the fact that they have been loved and encouraged. And although they may go without some ‘things’ they have experienced a rich environment in a real world.
I would add that these upbringings often build our resilience, our adaptability, our gratitude and our character. And it is this that often makes for a well balanced and productive member of society – a person that recognises self responsibility and the meaning of contribution.
So, my first challenge is to be mindful of the labels that we put on people. Society currently has a habit of wanting to put people in boxes. Oh she’s this, he’s that, what do you expect, look how they grew up….we live in a time of filling in forms, ticking boxes and meeting the criteria to assistance.
When we put negative labels on our children and this becomes hard-wired – by the age of seven I understand, we are almost setting them up for a life of whatever that label may be….and it can become bloody difficult to remove.
So as government organisations, I believe we need to be more mindful of our vocabulary and the words we use. I recognise that there is ‘criteria’ and outcomes to meet, however, we are dealing with people and communities, and their uniqueness needs to be respected.
My second observation – the context in which government works in this arena - whether it be local or central (noting that central government works more in this social field) – is that our role, at the end of the day should be to serve and support our communities, our districts, our regions, our country.
If we hold this at the core of what we do, then it changes our approach, our way of working with communities. It recognises that communities generally know what’s best for them and clearly goes against an often one size fits all policy or approach.
It’s not to say this is done without ‘goodwill’ but my experience is it is often done as a sticking plaster rather than having a holistic approach…Change can take time – particularly if we are trying to address ingrained beliefs.
So, my second challenge is how do we truly empower (and trust) our communities to take charge. How do we break down this current thinking of ‘doing it to us’ rather than ‘doing it with us’?
From a community perspective, I believe it starts with self responsibility and then builds to community responsibility. We need our community leaders to step up and we need to have the hard, the brave conversations. There have been a lot of wrongs. There is a lot of anger, disappointment, loss and despair– it goes back centuries. I believe that until we address this, acknowledge that it is done – seek forgiveness and are able to heal and let go – to move on, we will continue to find ourselves in this cycle.
We also need to be mindful of the motivators and ensure the hard yards are undertaken to set activities up for success. There are plenty of examples where ‘programmes’ have fallen short under community leadership. And there are often many reasons for this. However, things like ‘patch protection’, large egos and lack of collaboration should not be one of the reasons.
So, together, if government works alongside, in partnership, with our community leaders, support them with the tools, the resources, help enable them to make the stand, in their own way and their own time I think we will see inroads.
The Far North District Council in 2015 adopted the district vision – He Whenua Rangatira – A district of sustainable prosperity and well-being. It is supported by six key values, including Family, community, connecting caring and nine key expectations for 2050 – including a great place for our families to flourish and happy, healthy, safe and purposeful people.
This vision was developed from the ground up, facilitated by council. Over 2,000 people of the Far North contributed, from prisoners, to students to retired, to commercial operators. One of the key aims is to articulate and celebrate our values as a district, strengthening our journey of who we are and where we want to go.
To achieve this vision we must come together. Central government, local government, Iwi, Hapu, commercial, private, communities – we all have a role to play.
If we are to change our story - we must recognise that we are all in this together and that we have the power, collectively, to make a real difference now and into the future.
It starts with self, it starts with recognising our value, it starts with raising each other up, celebrating our diversity and not pulling each other down.
It starts with community and remembering what we are actually capable of. That all parts make the whole – warts and all.
I will finish with another story…it’s a story about fleas…
A scientist took a group of fleas and placed them in a container. He then placed a glass lid over the container. As we all know, fleas are capable of jumping very high compared to their body size (18cm high). At first the fleas hit the glass ceiling. Over time they become conditioned and only jumped as high as the glass ceiling. When the fleas were released they never again jumped as high as they were capable of. The story goes that their offspring also never learnt to jump to their full capacity…
So humans aren’t fleas…the moral of the story of course, is in today’s society how many glass ceilings are place over us individually…collectively…
So tackling poverty…lets continue to break glass ceilings.
The above presentation was delivered at the Tackling Poverty NZ Kaikohe workshop - 15.9.2016. It will form part of a National discussion. http://tacklingpovertynz.org/