Toitu te whenua, whatungarongaro te tangata. We may pass on, but the land will always remain.
The ‘Let’s Take Care’ project has been a huge learning experience for me. This began when I was asked to hold a regional workshop with other young people in Wellington to envision our ideal world and create a care code for the planet. I organised to hold this in the lounge at Gaura Yoga followed by a discounted Hare Krishna dinner for everyone. I invited members of the Onslow College Environment Group, and friends from Queen Margaret’s College and Victoria University I have made through the Regeneration network. We discussed what makes New Zealand’s identity, and brainstormed an ideal world then used these ideas to create a care code for the planet that is specific to New Zealand.
At the National hui at Te Mauri Tau in Raglan, I met with the other delegates and other youth who were involved in creating the New Zealand charter. We were welcomed onto the land with a powhiri and spent the weekend finalising the New Zealand Charter of Responsibilities. It was really grounding to be in an environment and an area of New Zealand that was so special, and where I was able to see a strong community. I felt this strong support base behind me when I was in Brazil, and am really thankful for this weekend kick-off to the journey.
Arriving at the conference in Brazil was really nerve-racking. We arrived a day later than most people due to delayed flights, so the conference was already alive with excitement. Our bus was greeted with a group of facilitators and children cheering and chanting “Nova Zealandia” We met with Nicola, the youth facilitator from New Zealand who had been at the conference for a week of training and was buzzing with excitement. She talked us through the week ahead and showed us around the conference centre which was made up of four buildings; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Everywhere we walked, people would introduce themselves to us or yell “New Zealand is here!” Despite being jetlagged I immediately felt safe, and that I would be accepted by anyone I approached.
The energy generated throughout the conference remained positive for the whole time we were there. Everyone was comfortable with each other and willing to communicate even with language barriers. Everyone had wrist bands to represent the languages they spoke, their right hand was languages they spoke competently or their main language and their left hand was other languages they spoke. Nearly everyone had two wrist bands, and a lot of people had three or more. I was embarrassed to be among the minority wearing one wrist band. Often people would apologise for their bad English during a conversation, but I would reply “your English is better than my Portugese/ French/ German/ Spanish/ Czech/ Italian” I was blown away by how well people spoke English when the conference was their first opportunity to speak English other than in class at school
On the first full day, the conference was split into continental groups; Africa, America, Europe and Asia + Oceania. New Zealand was the only country representing Oceania or The Water Continent as we called ourselves. A lot of the conference was about representing your country and almost selling it to the rest of the world. I noticed that compared to other countries, New Zealand lacks national pride. I learnt a lot about New Zealand at the conference, because people would ask me questions that I had never been asked before: about the political system in New Zealand, about indigenous culture and Maori language, about school, about the weather, the drinking age, the driving age etc. These are the obvious things I know without thinking about, having lived in New Zealand all my life but when I was asked about them I found myself acknowledging the differences we have to the rest of the world. People were curious as to why we represented two flags, whereas every other country used one. This meant explaining New Zealand’s’ history and the relationship between maori and pakeha. I remember someone saying “why not just have one joint flag?” He was pointing out the obvious, and perhaps having someone else say it made me realise an obvious flaw we have. Why are we unable to represent the bicultural or multicultural society that we are in one flag?
As the conference progressed, I began to have deeper friendships with a group of people from Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Georgia and the Czech Republic. This is because their English was quite good and I was able to converse with them more easily than other delegations. It was quite isolating being friends with so many Europeans with borders separating them, as opposed to a vast ocean. Despite the short time period we had, friendships sparked so easily and I made some of the best friends I will ever have, and I hope they will last forever.
I am proud of the charter of responsibilities which was finalised at the conference, and I really hope that the message we created is spread around the world. ” We come from different countries and diverse cultures, and even though we are separated by oceans and continents, we are all one, united for one goal: to take care of the planet” I found the representatives from the Brazilian Government at the conference were really supportive, and the French Minister of Education/Environment? was also really supportive of our generation and the future of the planet. This has given me reassurance that our political leaders do care, and with influence the New Zealand government may follow lead.