Rural Women - a community to be proud of
OPINION: A few dozen women in a country hall is the setting for a good news story.
Last weekend I was one of those women in a stimulating group sharing a strong sense of community even though we live far apart, often in isolated areas. Thousands of women just like us are quietly working with dedication to enhance the social, economic, cultural and environmental prosperity of regions, especially rural ones.
After 92 years of service to many diverse people, the members of this wonderful organisation are still diligently promoting strong, vibrant and healthy communities today.
This "community" whose story I am proud to be a small part of is Rural Women New Zealand. This organisation, started in 1925, was called Women's Division of Farmer's Union, then became Women's Division of Federated Farmers and in 1999 was renamed Rural Women to clarify that all women were welcome, not just "farmers" or "farmers' wives".
There are now about 3000 members in 300 branches New Zealand-wide. Most are based in rural communities, some are in cities, and men and corporate members are also welcomed.
On a local level members support each other and the monthly meetings are a social gathering. Friendship is important for those of us often living in isolated, rural areas. We value time with other women, especially during seasons with low pay-outs, drought and other difficult times in rural communities.
With a strong spirit of community RWNZ plays a vital role in social networking and supports families through floods, fires, earthquakes and times of family crisis. During the Christchurch earthquake RWNZ members provided food for the "Farmy Army" and helped with the clean up.
They also produced distinctive red and black woollen socks called "Aftershox" which provided employment when many had lost work and raised a lot of money for the Canterbury recovery.
On a national level RWNZ has an office in Wellington and advocate on issues concerning rural communities. They include school bus services, rural education, broadband coverage, medical services and the impact of tourism. There is a national conference each year where remits are presented and participants socialise, hear speakers and participate in workshops.
On an international level RWNZ is affiliated with the Association Of Country Women Worldwide (ACWW) so support for women and rural communities goes beyond New Zealand to others less well off than ourselves.
Over the years RWNZ members have raised thousands of dollars for various causes. A big focus has been on the disease leptospirosis and money has been spent to research and develop a vaccine significant in reducing debilitating infections in farming people. Prostate cancer research has been a recent recipient of fundraising.
Our small branch in Pakawau, Golden Bay donate to various causes including health services and St John's, funding students to Spirit of New Zealand or Outward Bound, as well as money overseas for leprosy research, Fred Hollows eye clinics and water tanks in the Pacific.
In early years RWNZ started a home-help organisation to support women in isolated places who needed assistance due to illness or accident. This became Access Homehealth, one of the biggest providers of in home care for families in NZ.
Each year RWNZ organise Enterprising Rural Women Awards which encourages and celebrates the achievements of a huge range of rural based businesses like cheese makers, walking tours, accommodation, nurseries, harness makers and safety services.
Because of the well known reputation of great cooks among the membership, RWNZ has published three cookbooks with recipes collected from around the country. Good fundraisers and a great way to share valuable tried recipes.
Every year leadership courses are provided in Wellington for training and to build experience and confidence for women to become leaders in our communities. RWNZ was recognised with a well deserved award in the New Zealander of the Year Community section.
When I wrote the nomination I asked the good ladies of our Pakawau branch for some words expressing what they valued about our organisation. They told me that: "Rural Women give a hand in the community in time of need", "is a voice for rural communities", "has the confidence of government to advocate for rural people", "are a group of caring and sharing women there for others", "has given me as a new member the valuable benefit of experience and wisdom of being part of a group of women supporting each other", "is somewhere to have a good laugh and get things done."
They have been active in supporting and bringing rural communities together for 90 years and will be industriously working together to strengthen communities for generations to come. At the conference last week we shared food, fun and fellowship, listened to interesting speakers and donated nearly $4000 to our Rescue Helicopter Trust. Next week the story continues and more women will gather in country halls.
Our branch for regular monthly meeting and a provincial gathering for harvest celebration. It is a really good news story and I am happy to play my part in the life of this wonderful group of energetic, generous women. We would love you to join us.
Joyce Wyllie is a sheep farmer at Kaihoka in Golden Bay.