Calling All Change Agents

In the mid 1980’s when the Whakatu meatworks closed we ran a programme at Waiohiki to support workers made redundant by the extraordinary restructuring of our economy. Men and women who previously had been slaughtering animals or working in meat processing were confronted with the challenge of finding new employment, new careers. Many did. They became teachers and community leaders. Some discovered a new and exhilarating career in areas they had never previously considered.

The consequences of Covid19 have presented us with a similar discontinuity. Whilst the young and fit may find opportunities in primary production and construction, those who are somewhat older and less agile may be in trepidation about what their future holds. Some, particularly those who have been in retail or in the service industries may wonder what they have to offer. I’m saying, “Be of good heart”. For instance, those who were successful in sales generally demonstrate strong interpersonal skills and an ability to establish rapport. Those who carry age on their shoulders (and in my case on the hips) have life experience, human wisdom, and common sense (which is less common than the descriptor implies).

Covid19 has woken us up to the fact that we need to be prepared for pandemics. The experience of the 1980’s reminds us that we better get prepared for another form of epidemic, joblessness and the despair that accompanies it. We will face new forms of poverty, not necessarily financial but more likely “poverty of the spirit”. The Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Friere once visited New Zealand. He told us then that the great damage of unemployment was not so much financial but the sense of personal uselessness that accompanied it.

Well if that tsunami of hopelessness is building, I am suggesting that we get ready to go hard and go fast to reposition ourselves and our communities above the social tsunami line. Think about it as civil defence. I’m proposing to form a Hawke’s Bay social civil defence force, a battalion of change agents made up of civilians, men and women who are affected by change but who had never previously thought of themselves as themselves being agents of change rather than victims of change. I’m inviting people to take their futures in their own hands and with that, helping their communities to do the same.

We are short of labour in primary production and the seasonal industries. We are short of a workforce in the social sector too. The EIT is currently offering social and health sector programmes with qualifications that will enable to participate in an expanded mental health and addictions workforce. There will be other training channels as well, and, I predict, a fresh call for community change agents of all ilks and all forms. Keep your eyes wide and ears open. I’m shining up the clarion, and when you hear the call, haeremai: people of every creed and race, gather here before Thy face, asking Thee to bless this place, God defend our free land.

Denis O’Reilly
Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust
24th July 2020

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Dunedin Swimmer Erika Fairweather Wins in Doha

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