A light high on a treetop is the first sign of community-facing action of the Avondale Uniting Parish. A yellow power cord swings up the tree from the church hall. The Reverend Vai Ngahe (pictured right) spoke about action in the community beginning with getting ‘the raw data’ on issues in Avondale.
In the research, health and education came up as the big issues; it also brought up some surprises. Newspaper reports earlier this year showed that the parish is sitting in the middle of two gangs. Vai mentioned this as he was discussing the parish goal of community outreach and hospitality as leading expression of their mission (pictured below). One question for the parish then is how can we be hospitable to gangs and can we accept them as they are?
The homework on local priorities came up with education as number one.
The primary school principle said kids can’t learn if they’re hungry and kids come to school with no lunch at all. The school response is to provide lunch. Vai said ‘encouraging school kids is one way to support our kids with education. So we set up the homework centre’.
A parishioner who is a teacher is volunteering her time for supervision of the homework centre for two evenings per week. The bright new chairs and desks and two computers are the first signs of setting up; they were purchased with a grant through the Methodist church. The news of the day when we met was a cheque in the mail from a charitable trust, with enough to bring a computer lab, a kitchen upgrade and curtains to the near horizon.
Vai has wide knowledge of this community. He refers to the icon of the spider (pictured left) at the shopping centre as a symbol for the webs of the community. Clearly he is a leader who stops at nothing to weave together the parish with local agencies and services.The parish will invite Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, the Department of Corrections, the DHB and Immigration to a fono to meet with local groups and strengthen the networks of connection and support.
Speaking of the impacts of the recession he said ‘ yes, there have been lay-offs and loss of overtime’. Poverty is not a word for this community in Vai’s view. ‘I don’t want to call people poor, just because they don’t have enough resources –our role is to provide resources and empower them so they will be able to do for themselves’.
A Community Development worker employed by the Methodist Church has worked with this parish, as with others parishes, and the effects are telling. The vision of strengthening relationships with the community and an outreach of pastoral care has been backed up with data on this youthful community: 35% of children in Avondale leave school without qualifications, compared to 18% for Auckland city, and 30% for New Zealand. Low incomes and living in overcrowded houses are the main issues for these families.
Exercise classes are part of the health programme of the parish, with weight and blood test checks available. Vai would like to negotiate a way to have free medical advice for the parish. A community garden is all ready for planting – it was built by PD guys as part of an arrangement with Corrections.
The next homework for Vai and this parish is meeting up with UNITEC and Massey to talk with education experts to see what further steps for education can be taken. The homework centre is one thread to strengthen the web of education. The parish is thinking about other steps of hospitality, such as with the local gangs. As we talked we made the link with Wesley Community Action, who have worked with gangs in Wellington, as one way to check out strategies.
Watch a video interview where Vai talks about the community and the parish here on YouTube.
Minister – Revd. Vai Ngahe
Phone: 09 828 2003
For information on parish initiatives visited for the NZCCSS Manaaki Hapori project, contact:
Phone: 04 473 2627 / 021-388-337