Community Scoop

It’s just what we do

Gabrielle OBrienGabrielle O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer
Birthright NZ

Like many others, I have struggled to follow the news coverage regarding the death of 3 year old, Moko Rangitoheriri. Not because it hasn’t been accessible but because the circumstances were so horrific that it is stomach churning. Only the conviction that we need to face up to this tragedy to understand what we can do to change our shocking record of child abuse in New Zealand keeps me reading and listening.
The circumstances of Moko’s death contrast so poignantly with the happy grin of a 3 year old who had every right to expect that the adults who cared for him were there to nurture him and protect him from harm, particularly when he was separated from his Mum and his usual routine.
Another event that is being covered extensively in the Wellington papers this week is the death of a man at the other end of his life. His decomposing body found in the flat where he lived alone.
I found myself contrasting these stories with the happy outcome of a search for a four year old child who had gone missing in the small Northland community of Aropohue. Besides the great news that this child had been found and was back with her family, I was struck by a comment from a member of the local community who was asked about the overwhelming turn out of volunteers to help look for her. He commented “It’s just what we do. People in our neighbourhood look out for each other.”
This got me thinking. What is it about our collective psyche as a nation that allows us to be caring and look out for each other but which still doesn’t prevent these cases of neglect and isolation happening? We have seen how effectively communities can rally together, not just when a child goes missing but also when natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods impact. We also pride ourselves in helping each other out when it comes to difficult life events. Every day in NZ, someone, somewhere will be dropping off food to a friend or neighbour who has suffered a bereavement, helping a friend move house after a marriage break up, or raising money for a family with a sick child.
Yet, today we know there are children in our country living in fear, there are adults who are isolated and alone and there are others who are struggling with day to day living. We owe it to ourselves as a society to be the eyes and ears that look out for each other, not just when the “big stuff” happens but in our everyday interactions.
When asked to comment on the rates of child abuse, Anthea Simcock, CEO of Child Matters noted that the simplest and tiniest gestures can make all the difference.
“When you see a family in an environment that could be harmful to a child, don’t just turn away, see how you can help out. Offer to cook a meal, or babysit, or do anything you can do to relive the stress.”
Sometimes, the scale of these social issues can feel overwhelming but maybe if every one of us takes the time to check in, to make it known that we are there when needed and to enquire when things just don’t feel right, we can make a difference. Nike may have captured “Just do it” but “Looking out for each other – it’s just what we do” can be ours.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices
ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.
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