What poverty looks like: Meet the Sikaleti brothers video

IAIN MCGREGOR/Stuff.co.nz

The cost of playing rugby is too much for Lufilufi Sitagata and her two boys. So Kiwis stepped up.

Kiwi children living in poverty face time on the sideline because their parents and caregivers cannot afford to have them play club sport.

Brothers Tulaniu Sikaleti​, 11, and Sikaleti Sikaleti, 13, are keen sportsmen, but they will not join their friends at Canterbury's Leeston Rugby Club this year.

Mum Lufilufi Sitagata​ sacrificed paying the $200 club rugby subs and buying new rugby boots to free up money for food, school uniforms and petrol. 

Finances have been tight in the Sikaleti boys' home since mum Lufilufi Sitagata lost her job due to a heart condition.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Finances have been tight in the Sikaleti boys' home since mum Lufilufi Sitagata lost her job due to a heart condition.

The Ellesmere College students settled for playing school rugby and, earlier this year, Sikaleti took up skating.

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Finances in the Sikaleti household have been tight since Sitagata​ lost her glass factory job in Christchurch in 2014 because of a heart condition.

She said the company learned of her mechanical heart valve and blood thinning condition and suggested she find more suitable work.

Since then, the single mother had applied for numerous jobs, to no avail. 

Tulaniu and Sikaleti Sikaleti have settled for playing rugby at school.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Tulaniu and Sikaleti Sikaleti have settled for playing rugby at school.

"Right now, I feel sorry for my boys. I want my boys to be able to be kids . . . rather than worry about me."

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Sitagata, 38, sometimes skipped her heart medication and the "happy pills" prescribed for her ailing mental health, to ensure Sikaleti and Tulaniu did not go hungry.

A friend offered his home to the family for $150 a week. After weekly medical, school, food and petrol costs, there was little money left over from her $470 benefit.

She sent the brothers to school with $5, so they could buy lunch. "To me, it's cheaper."

At dinner, Sitagata fed her children first. She ate if there were leftovers. 

"Sometimes they think of me and leave me a piece, but I say 'don't worry, I'll eat whatever'."

"They want me to eat more proper than them. They worry about my health, but to me, I would rather them be more comfortable. Every one say to me 'you have to look after yourself before your boys, who will look after the boys'. But I don't care about me. My kids come first." 

The rule worried Sikaleti.

"Right now, instead of being a 13-year-old, his head is double his age . . . what I want is for my kids to enjoy being kids," Sitagata said.

Keen sportsmen Tulaniu Sikaleti and Sikaleti Sikaleti won't be joining their friends on the club rugby field this year.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Keen sportsmen Tulaniu Sikaleti and Sikaleti Sikaleti won't be joining their friends on the club rugby field this year.

She took medication for depression, when she could afford to see the doctor for a prescription. Sitagata was increasingly concerned about her children's wellbeing.

"They worry about me being alone at home.

"Mates invite them over, but they don't go because they want to keep an eye on me."

Her children were on the wait list for the Variety Kiwi kids sponsorship programme, which would help cover their various health and education needs. Her eldest son remained in her homeland, Samoa. The boys' father was not in the picture.

The boys remained philosophical about their situation.

"I'd like to be involved [in club rugby], but there is nothing I can do about it," Sikaleti, 13, said. 

"I've taken up skating because I had to give rugby up," he added.

"Having gas, that would be amazing."

Tulaniu said: "I don't really mind because now I can play for Ellesmere College."

Brothers Tulaniu Sikaleti, 11, and Sikaleti Sikaleti, 13, are on the on the wait list for the Variety Kiwi kids ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Brothers Tulaniu Sikaleti, 11, and Sikaleti Sikaleti, 13, are on the on the wait list for the Variety Kiwi kids sponsorship programme.

Each week, Sitagata tried to put $40 aside for the boys' winter uniforms, which she could not afford in one go. In the meantime, they had a uniform pass, which allowed them to wear the summer uniform. 

"Fifty dollars for one short for the winter one – I can't even afford both shorts and both tops. And I have to buy Warehouse shoes for school because I can't afford the proper school shoe.

"If I buy the uniform, there will be no lunch, nothing."

For her own wellbeing, Sitagata wanted a job. To be out of the house and surrounded by people.

"I want to be in a job. I don't want to be rejected because of my heart."

Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said the Sikaleti boys' situation was not unique. There were many children like them across the country who needed sponsorship through their Kiwi Kids programme. 

Sikaleti Sikaleti, 13, cleans his boots, which will get him through a season of school rugby.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Sikaleti Sikaleti, 13, cleans his boots, which will get him through a season of school rugby.

"Families are really struggling to make ends meet and, often at times, things have to go on the back burner. Unfortunately, it's sport and recreational activities. 

"We're a proud nation of athletic people . . . there are kids who have the potential to be our future sports stars and they're not even able to get in at the ground level."

Hornby Primary School principal Gary Roberts said there was a growing divide between the "haves and the have nots".

Sixty to 70 per cent of the school's pupils did not play weekend sport because of the cost. Recently, the school stepped in to pay sport club memberships for a family. 

"It would be wonderful if we could have all our families who want to participate in weekend sport to be able to do so, because there are a lot of positives that children can gain from physical activity.

"My gut tells me it's not getting any better." 

Paediatrician Professor Innes Asher said sport was vital for children's physical, mental and social development. 

"If a kid can't take part in sport because of poverty then they not only miss out on those, but they have a feeling of exclusion. That can have a profound effect of shame and anger in a child who is excluded."

Clubs like Burnside Rugby Football Club had hardship funds to help families in need.

Club rugby manager Brent Frew said in some cases, people registered at the start of the season, then fell off the radar a third of the way in when finances were stretched. 

"It's [happening] across the board with the way the economic climate is going."

"People are having to make choices. You can't have everything, so something is going to give."

KidsCan Charitable Trust chief executive Julie Chapman said there was a growing need for shoes, so children could participate in sports and extra-curricular activities.

In 2016, KidsCan provided more than 24,000 pairs of shoes to Kiwi children, including 1327 in Christchurch. 

HOW MUCH ARE JUNIOR CLUB SPORT SUBS?

Football
Under 10 years: $100
Age 10 to 15: $150

Netball
Under 10: $100
Age 10 to 15: $150

Rugby
$85 (under 16) 

Rowing
(From age 14) $800

Baseball
$60 (under 16) 

Prices are approximate and vary from club to club.

DONATE OR SPONSOR A CHILD

Variety: visit variety.org.nz or phone 09 520 4111

KidsCan: visit kidscan.org.nz or phone 09 478 1525

 - Stuff

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