Connection is the basis of all human relationships. Genuine connection with another human nurtures us, it’s like a hug for our soul, it makes us realise that we are important, even if only to one other person. Research shows that social connections such as sharing a meal with a friend or hugging a grandparent, builds health and happiness, a positive mental state and even keeps our stress levels in check.
There are terabytes of information out there stating how “connected” we are in the 21st Century. Social Media has proven we can connect and communicate like never before. But, it has proven a tricky balance. From oversharing to only sharing certain versions of ourselves, social media profiles have oftentimes appeared hollow and baseless. With less and less real interaction, there has been a rise in loneliness – particularly among Millennials. Recent studies across many first world nations have shown that up to half of those questioned, are showing high levels of loneliness. Anyone in New Zealand will be aware of our high suicide rates, which reached its highest-ever level, with 685 people dying in the year to June 30 2019.
These statistics tell us that something is wrong with how we’ve been doing things. As the global coronavirus pandemic takes over, we have begun to realise how superior real connection truly is.
Connection and whanaungatanga (relationships) are integral to the programme at I Have a Dream Charitable Trust. The charity’s core objective is to build long-term partnerships between students (Dreamers), families, schools and community to ensure the life success of each and every Dreamer. Their own research shows that the success of a Dreamer has follow-on, positive impacts for whānau and community. It all starts with a single, positive connection, and builds from there.
As NZ headed into lockdown on Thursday 26 March 2020, the I Have a Dream team knew of the inherent challenges some of the Dreamers and whānau were going to face. The charity’s programme operates in high needs Whangarei communities, where many children lack consistent caring role models and access to basic amenities such as the internet. With lockdown in place, many whānau would also be facing job losses and those that were already living week to week, would struggle under increased financial pressures. For a relationship-based charity, the biggest challenge was how to stay connected to Dreamers and whānau and ensure they continued to feel cared about and supported throughout this tough period.
I Have a Dream has created a number of initiatives with the main goal to keep in daily contact with their Dreamers and whānau. For those that have been able to access it, there has been something for everyone on the C-19 Community Facebook page, set up specifically to support Dreamers and whānau during this period. Highlights have included Navigator Sergio’s breakdancing classes, Year 11/12 Navigator Mo’s Tik Tok challenge (students complete their school tasks and Mo has to post a Tik Tok video), Year 4 Navigator Laura’s brain teasers and the Primary School Navigators worksheet booklet provided in hard copy before lockdown and now available as an online resource.
For those without access to the internet, telephone conversations have been the main communication tool. It has been more than just checking in and seeing if Dreamers and whānau are doing okay. I Have a Dream wanted to show their support in tangible ways. As lockdown was scheduled, they set up the Covid-19 Relief Fund which has received over $30,000 in donations to date and has enabled the charity to supply their most-in-need whānau with weekly food boxes through their Dream Partner PaknSave Whangarei. These food boxes, filled with essentials up to the value of $100, have been available each week since the beginning of lockdown and will continue under Alert Level 3. All whānau have had to do is collect the food boxes themselves at the supermarket. It has been a real lifesaver for some whanau,
“Wow, truly grateful. I received an I Have a Dream parcel and parcel from KidsCan [today]. I’m working but sheezuz it’s been tough going making sure bills are paid. Today actual got a bit teary filling the cupboards. Kept thinking one less stress off the list.” said Lisa Thomas, Mum to 3 Dreamers.
These various initiatives have begun forming new kinds of relationships too. Being virtually connected from the start of lockdown saw a number of Dreamers feeling awkward and uncomfortable. It was a new way of connecting and it was challenging for many. But over time, the anxiety has faded away to become more meaningful,
“I had a great catch up with one Dreamer and afterwards when speaking with their Mum, she said it was the longest her child had ever spoken on a video call or any call for that matter. I felt so chuffed to hear this.” said Marcia Aperahama, Year 3 Navigator.
As school started, I Have a Dream were supporting Dreamers in the virtual classroom, exactly as they would be in the physical classroom. This virtual learning environment has created a range of new skills for Dreamers. They are beginning to lead conversation on their own, and create discussion amongst themselves,
“They are exchanging ideas. They are educating one another, simply by having conversation.” said Daisy Rogers, Year 10 Navigator.
Being able to witness this kind of growth in the Dreamers and share in their newfound skillsets is what the I Have a Dream team cherish about their role. The fact that these achievements are now being experienced virtually is simply a by-product of a circumstance beyond their control. What is more significant, is that the team has been able to continue to strengthen their connection with Dreamers and whānau under lockdown. If anything, this connection has become more real. And that is what is most important – real, true connection – the basis of all great relationships.
To learn more about I Have a Dream Charitable Trust, visit www.ihaveadream.org.nz. Or if you’d like to support I Have a Dream’s C-19 Relief Fund, go to www.ihaveadream.org.nz/donate and use C19 in the comments/reference section.
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