Paying rent on Planet Earth

This past week has been absolutely crammed with connections to inspirational community groups and gatherings.

It’s reminded me how many people give of themselves without gaining a personal financial return.  I can get caught up in frustration around inequality and over-commercialisation and miss how much good is already happening.

Whether it’s volunteers aiming to make the Masters Games here in Whanganui a zero waste event, or iwi coming together in neighbouring Rangitikei to support an amazing river health project, Nga Puna Rau Rangitikei, or hearing about Rotary’s support for the Matipo St community garden. Whether it’s meeting the team bidding for a roof for our velodrome to create a venue that’s more than a race track, or seeing people back at Paakaitore on Waitangi Day, thanks to the organising power of new organisation Whakawhanake Ltd, or visiting a local dairy farm where they’re leading the way in managing run-off through voluntarily constructing a native wetland.

My little contribution was helping district councillor Josh Chandulal-McKay organise last weekend’s rally in support of refugees, immigrants and Muslims, so it seems appropriate to quote world-famous Muslim boxer Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

A speaker at the rally, Stefan Grand-Meyer, a friend of mine from the Greens, is leading a project to translate the Treaty of Waitangi into 30 different languages as a way to help new immigrants understand our country’s history. With his professional background, I assumed this was part of his paid work – but no, another example of a volunteer giving his time simply because he cares.

Josh and I faced some criticism about the rally – a few asking why aren’t you also protesting about this or that. Another quote, this time from Edward Everett Hale, a 19th century anti-slavery activist, to help answer the question: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

So what difference does a rally of 150 people in Whanganui make to the new US President’s stance? To me, that doesn’t matter – it was about demonstrating solidarity with others through our own, albeit small, stand. And sometimes the collective weight of these small actions brings results – I predict a doubling of the refugee quota before the election season is over.

Anne Frank, someone who didn’t make it into the US as a refugee, dying aged 15 in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, left the world many moving thoughts, including this: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

I’m back from two days in the Ruapehu learning about conservation-based ventures near the upper Whanganui River that truly are improving the world; Blue Duck Lodge, within the wider Kia Wharite project, and Tawata Sanctuary. Both projects are creating meaningful jobs doing good work while improving the environment and challenging traditional land use concepts.

The numbers of goats, stoats, possums, rats, mice, weasels, wild cats and even hedgehogs coming out of the bush was testament to the ground crews’ efforts clearing traps and bait stations. And the results were obvious with the bush bouncing back and a massive increase in bird numbers.

This work requires incredible persistence, determination and commitment, which I had a little taste of when working for DOC Turangi in my university holidays, many years ago now. But this time, as a councillor, I got the honour of releasing one of 14 whio (blue duck). I felt like a real politician being there for the glory, instead of helping behind the scenes.

We do need these photo opportunities though, to show how the sweat, stress and sacrifice is paying off and the vision is becoming a reality. I hope to be at Tawata one day to witness the return of kokako to the bush – seeing those beautiful birds being released would be a moment to cherish.