Mitchell Denham (C15) at poverty workshop in Parliament

News items - Voices - 11 December 2015

Teach First NZ was invited to participate in the TacklingPovertyNZ workshop, sponsored by the McGuiness Institute and The Treasury, held at Parliament in December 2015. Mitchell Denham (C15) shares his reflections. 

I was lucky enough to represent Teach First NZ at the Tackling Poverty NZ workshop run by the McGuinness Institute in partnership with Treasury.

The aim of the workshop was to bring 36 youth (18-25) from all over the country (Invercargill to Kaikohe), with totally different experiences of poverty over three days to participate in the discussion and ultimately present our perspective on how to combat poverty in New Zealand. On the final day, we presented our findings to MPs, mayors, whānau and other members of the New Zealand community at Parliament.

We heard from a wide range of speakers; Dame Diane Robertson, Hon. Bill English, Dr. Girol Karacaoglu, and many more including our own CEO Shaun Sutton. They gave us their own view of poverty and how they felt we should best go about dealing with this in New Zealand.

The first of my many learnings from this experience was that poverty is very difficult to define. Coming into this workshop I saw poverty as simply a lack of opportunities due to inadequate education, healthcare and shelter. While this is not untrue, it does not give the full picture of what it is like to live in poverty. To quote a fellow participant 'poverty of the hand does not equate to poverty of the mind' and for me poverty is just as much a mindset as it is a 'lack of'. Just because people go without, does not mean they don't feel any less fulfilled or happy, but when people have to deal with the stress and emotion of telling their story to 45 different social or other services over two weeks and not feeling as though they are getting anywhere, that is when there is an issue. Poverty means different things to different people (and there is no one definition), but regardless we can't let poverty place a glass ceiling over others. I worked alongside those who have been personally affected by poverty, but through education and the communities around them, they were able to break through that glass ceiling and not allow poverty to define who they are.

Secondly, the importance of community and education in tackling poverty became even more evident. Education is key for everyone, especially for those living in poverty. It really can just take one teacher to make all the difference to a vulnerable mind. We need to raise the status of teaching and get more high-quality teachers into the classroom. Teaching need not be seen as a last resort for those who can't do, but as a position of privilege and a chance to make a change. The Tackling Poverty NZ workshop also emphasised the importance of community and how community and education need to work hand-in-hand to provide for our rangitahi. I have seen for myself this year the power of a phone-call home, or the sharing of success stories from students past -- schools are there to serve their communities because who knows our children better than their community?

What I have also come to realise is that this is an issue that needs to be spoken about and the real experts are those that are living in it day to day. It's essential that we ask these experts and work together to empower every New Zealander to reach their fullest potential.

I come away from the workshop with so much that I want to take back to my school and my community. I am feeling inspired by the people I met and hopeful knowing that the 36 creative, talented and bright friends I made on this journey are going back to their communities to make a difference and shape our future as New Zealand.

I would like to thank Wendy McGuinness and her team at the McGuinness Institute for their awhi and aroha in ensuring participants felt safe to explore this uncomfortable, perplexing and mammoth issue.

Ka nui te aroha ki a koutou katoa.