Generous gesture inspires school collection

FRANCESCA LEE
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2013
 Books, furniture, pens, pencils and other basic school supplies begin their trip to Aitutaki
BIG HELP: Books, furniture, pens, pencils and other basic school supplies begin their trip to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

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Christchurch schools are repaying a favour to a Cook Island that raised $25,000 for the city after the February 2011 quake.

Books, sports equipment, chairs, whiteboards, and furniture were collected from 12 schools yesterday to be sent to the island of Aitutaki, which has a population of about 2000 people.

The project was the brain child of retired farmer and volunteer business mentor Rod McKenzie, who came up with it after visiting the atoll in August.

He was shocked to find that even though the islanders raised such a huge amount of money for Christchurch, their three primary schools operated on a budget of about $10,000 a year each.

"I was reminded of the wonderful generous donation of $25,000 from the people of Aitutaki. They have only 2000 people and I was quite humbled by that. I wanted to contribute something back to them," he said.

"I asked a retired principal where I could send money and he said, don't send money. We would like resources. I immediately went and bought some stationery items they had requested."

Back in Christchurch, he liaised with Ouruhia School principal Mark Ashmore-Smith to get in touch with schools around Christchurch to see what they could spare.

"[In Aitutaki] they were struggling for things as simple as school uniforms," said Ashmore-Smith.

"Their water quality was not good and as a leftover from the missionary days, their school uniforms had white shirts, and the water would stain them. The schools wanted to try and bring in a uniform with a coloured shirt. They were bucketing in water to make the toilets flush. All these very basic things were making [educators] jobs so hard."

McKenzie said a lot of schools had surplus furniture that were a little worn but still in very good condition. He liaised with the schools in Aitutaki to make sure they wanted it first and then got in touch with transport companies Canterbury Movers, Mainfreight, and Pacific Direct, who all offered to transport the goods for free.

Canterbury Movers collected the goods and Mainfreight will take them to Auckland where they will then be shipped by Pacific Direct to Aitutaki.

Stationery like whiteboard markers, pens and pencils and art supplies have also been sent.

"There are hardly any whiteboards. There's only one in the whole school," said McKenzie.

McKenzie would like to repeat the exercise again next year and said other schools that had not been able to contribute anything this year were interested in helping.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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