Gypsy life of dad and daughter quake refugees

LAUREN PRIESTLEY
Last updated 10:40 21/03/2014
Paul Sexton
STICKING TOGETHER: Paul Sexton and his daughter Sapphire are thankful for the help they got to get back on their feet.

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Paul Sexton and his 5-year-old daughter Sapphire have been leading a gypsy life for three years.

The little family was uprooted after the destructive February 22 Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

The shake devastated the Sextons' rented Aranui home, ruining most of their possessions and leaving them without water, power or a working sewage system.

They came to Auckland in 2013 with just one suitcase between them.

But the pair have now settled into a new life in Mt Roskill, Auckland, and are thriving.

It couldn't have happened without a huge amount of help, say Sexton - who is separated from Sapphire's mum.

"We just had absolutely nothing when we got up here.

"It just knocked Christchurch for six. I've got no family support or anything here. The help we've been getting has saved us."

They initially stayed with friends and relatives in Christchurch, sleeping on mattresses and in garages.

There was nowhere to stay when they first arrived in Auckland so they moved into a boarding house in Avondale.

But there were some unsavoury tenants and it wasn't a great environment for a little girl to be in, so they moved to emergency housing in Mangere.

"There's so many places that are unsuitable for kids in that situation.

"When we got to the new place it was amazing. There were other kids and a playground for her. It was everything."

They were then moved to a Mt Roskill state house and have immersed themselves in the community. Sexton helps out at the community centre and Sapphire is in her first year at school.

Variety - The Children's Charity stepped in to help with the transition.

Sapphire was given a new school uniform, books, shoes, clothing and toys as part of the organisation's Kiwi Kids Sponsorship programme.

She's particularly pleased with the sparkly new pink glasses she received.

Sapphire is also going through counselling to help with the trauma of the earthquake, Sexton says.

"If we stand near a railway track or any kind of rumbling, she'll still grab hold of me because of the earthquakes. It stays with them for so long."

He says other families in need should look into the Variety initiative and see if they are eligible.

The organisation has been a lifeline in such a desperate situation, he says.

"There'll definitely be other families out there who don't know about Variety but I know for a fact that it could help them.

"We've been some of the lucky ones."

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Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor says there has been a sharp rise in urgent requests for help this month.

The initiative was born out of 2012 community research showing a growing divide between the "haves" and the "have nots", she says.

It tied in with the 2012 report from the Children's Commissioner stating 280,000 New Zealand children were living in poverty.

"It's not just children overseas. It's actually children in our own communities that are struggling.

"This was one way people can help a child in their own backyard."

Sponsors are linked up with individual children to help out with their specific needs, she says. There are nearly 200 children currently on the waiting list.

"Sponsors are one thing we're always needing. These little things can really transform a child's life."

HOW TO HELP

Sponsors are urgently needed for the Variety Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme.

The initiative has been running since January 2013 and has unearthed many cases where the basic needs of  children including medical expenses, clothing, bedding and school essentials are not able to be met by struggling families.

More than 800 sponsors are now taking part.

But many children in high risk situations requiring immediate help are still waiting for sponsors.

There are currently 56 children in the Auckland region on the waiting list with four living in Mt Roskill and one in Onehunga.

Sponsors are matched to  individual children and the minimum donation is $35 per month.

Contact Giselle on (09) 522 3740 or go to variety.org.nz

- Central Leader

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