Having a community around us is important for many reasons - first and foremost it means that we're not in the world alone, we're not fighting our battles by ourselves. Within a community, we have others we can turn to for help and support - perhaps just to seek advice or at times for more literal support. We have others to share our lives with, to care for and help in their time of need.
Before returning to Auckland we lived in Kaiapoi, in north Canterbury. Kaiapoi was -and is - about community. We won the Most Beautiful Town Award because our community came together to beautify our town and take responsibility for keeping it beautiful. One of the big focal points of the town was the local clubs.
There was the very popular and well performed Kaiapoi Rugby Club. The Waimakariri Football Club had the largest junior membership in the South Island. The netball and hockey clubs were equally sizeable and strong, there was a very strong rowing club, softball and cricket clubs and many more. There was the Brass Band, St Johns, Scouts, Girl Guides, and the Disgraceful Women Club. That club was comprised of older women who dressed up beautifully in red or purple - or both - and went out for luncheons, laughs and liquor (to keep to the Ls). There was Rotary, a strong RSA that was very involved in the life of the town, Kiwanis, a strong Lions Club and many more service organisations. Young farmers, Rural Women’s League, strong local Iwi organisations and so the list goes.
It meant there was a community group for everyone, and a lot of our community spirit was built around the congeniality, conviviality and connectedness that came from belonging to one or more of these community groups.
As a town we came together every ANZAC Day. We had an annual Christmas Parade and Saturday markets. And then it all came crashing down.
We were hit by two earthquakes, the first of which utterly devastated half of our town.
And yet, in the things that mattered, they didn’t shatter us or our town. My school, Kaiapoi Borough, and my wife’s school, Richmond Primary, were two of the nine worst hit schools in Canterbury. Both communities were decimated by the earthquakes. Whole streets that were once home to hundreds of children are now green-swathe. Lying desolate and empty as they wait to be repurposed, it is strange to go back and see nothing but grass and the odd tree.
Both communities have moved on, though Kaiapoi, which had such a strong community to begin with, has recovered better than most. There is a new library, new shopping centre, a rebuilt gym and restored RSA. The swimming pool is having its second rebuild and will be better than before. But most obviously, and most importantly, the community spirit is still there, and in most cases stronger than ever.
Looking at Kaiapoi immediately after the September earthquake and imagining that it could look as it does now seemed utterly impossible. Tom Vilsack says, “People working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible.”
Events such as the terrible earthquakes, teach us the importance of community. They teach us the value of resilience and give us opportunities to develop that quality.
I think it is really important we do all we can to build community right now, and every day, in little ways. Then, heaven forbid, if disaster strikes, networks and relationships are in place to help us all come together and get through the challenges together.
We can begin by doing small things at our local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbours. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.
Community can’t just be with people we feel comfortable with, who completely understand us and believe the same things as us. Community has to be intentional. Even if it starts organically, it still has to be maintained. Being alongside people from other walks of life, people who don't see the world through your own eyes, can be challenging - but we have the opportunity to grow and learn from that challenge. We can expand our experience of the world, and learn how to communicate and interact in different ways.
Let’s take this opportunity to set a goal to each do our bit to grow community in our community. I’m going to start by inviting my neighbour over for a cup of coffee. What will you do?
Greetings to all the families and friends of Western Heights school.