Community Scoop

Reaching out to each other

coalition-photo-13-feb-2019Louise Rees

National Social Connection Adviser | Age Concern New Zealand

On Friday afternoon, one week after the terrorist attack in Christchurch, I went to the Kilbirnie mosque in Wellington to be with others during the two-minute silence. As we waited, there were quiet conversations as people shared their reactions to the attack. A prevalent theme was that racism does exist in New Zealand, and that we need to recognize and challenge it, in ourselves and in others.

The time for the silence approached, and the crowd hushed. Along the rows, people linked arms or held hands. I exchanged smiles with the women on either side of me, as we took each other’s hands. There was an awkwardness and unfamiliarity about it, but it felt good. During the silence, people stood with eyes closed, or heads bowed, holding tightly to the friends or strangers beside them.

The stillness and quiet went on for a several minutes more, as though two-minutes were simply not enough. It was finally broken by a lone voice singing “Te Aroha”. Others joined in, then conversations and movement slowly resumed. When the crowd began to disperse, people moved with exaggerated care and courtesy, as though hyper-aware of the fragility and precariousness of the peace and unity we had just experienced.

In the coming weeks and months, as the immediacy of the terrible events of 15th March recede, the challenge will be to hold on to that sense of unity, and of respect and care for others. The cohesiveness of our society is threatened, not only by racist attitudes, but by loneliness and isolation.

Loneliness is a problem in New Zealand, and across the developed world. Family members now often live apart, increasing numbers of people live alone, and traditional support networks and patterns of interaction are being further disrupted by the busyness of modern life.

Loneliness can affect people of all ages, but migrants, especially recent migrants, are more likely to feel lonely than the general population. Frail older people, and young people aged 15-24 are also disproportionately affected. If we are lonely, we are at greater risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart disease, depression, and dementia. So what can we do as individuals, and in our whanau and communities?

Forming and nurturing real connection requires skills and values that have developed over time, and across cultures. These include, hospitality, the welcoming of strangers, a willingness to approach others with an open mind and heart, to listen and share, and to honour another person with undivided attention.

Each one of us has the potential to make a positive difference. We can do this by ensuring that all are welcomed, and no one feels left out in our community groups and activities. We can do it by being aware of friends, family members, or neighbours who may be lonely, and making an effort to reach out to them. We can do it by bringing courtesy, kindness, and respect to every interaction during our day.

Age Concern New Zealand, Alzheimers New Zealand, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association, St John New Zealand, Salvation Army, and Carers New Zealand have formed a coalition (see picture above) to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, advocate for government focus and action, and work together on practical initiatives to build caring, connected communities.

We are still in set-up phase, so are not promising regular communications from the coalition at this stage, but sign up to our mailing list here if you would like updates on our progress. Also visit our website for more information about loneliness and isolation, and to see what Age Concern offers for older people who want more connection and company.

Together we can make a difference.


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website