New Zealand

I have had an exciting couple of days in Wellington. I got an opportunity to spend time with teenage mothers and with grade school children who were part of a program for gifted children. I spent the morning at the Huraki Tamriki School which provided quality education to teenage mothers and also offered an impressive onsite daycare for their children that allowed the students to know that quality care was being provided for their children while they were trying to improve the circumstances of their own lives. I found the girls to be funny and sassy and reminded me very much of the teenagers back home because they were talking about Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. They kept asking me if I knew any famous people just like typical teenagers. I almost forgot that they have one of the hardest jobs in the world which is trying to be a good parent while also learning how to be an adult. I thought the program was great and I am proud to say was started by an Eisenhower Fellow. The program has been in existence for about 17 years and they had had many success stories in that time with a few college graduates and a woman who is currently starting her ph.d. I feel like I was able to really connect to the girls by sharing my own journey and I had a wonderful time hearing about their experiences and the hopes and dreams that they had for themselves and for their children. The struggle going forward will be for the girls to find their own path instead of continuing the cycle of generational poverty that many of them have been born into. How do you balance giving people the help they need with allowing them to get to a place where they can care for themselves? Does too much help hurt people in the long term? These are questions that New Zealand is struggling with as they make budget cuts and changes to their social safety net.

My meeting at the gifted children program was eye opening because these kids made me realize that I could not beat them at “Are you smarter than a 5th Grader? I asked some of the kids what they did for fun and one said he had been working on a car that would need no gas, electric, or battery. His classmate not to be outdone said that he was trying to figure out the beginning of the universe and how it would end. I said how old are you and he said nine. I asked how they got into the program and they discussed how bored they were in their regular classes and how different they felt from their classmates and how the school had not been able to meet their needs and their parents were advocates for finding something better. I think the program showed me that even when your child has special gifts its important to be aware of what is happening because many schools teach to the middle.

I spent two hours being interviewed for an article in the Dominion Post newspaper here in Wellington. I discussed my journey from homeless to lawyer, my advocacy related to poverty and homeless issues, my Eisenhower Fellowship to India and New Zealand and what I observed in my short time in New Zealand. I can’t wait to read the story and will put a link on my blog when the story is published.

Lastly, I finished my busy day up with dinner in the Parliment dining room with 2012 Eisenhower Fellow Greg King and new Fellow David Clark an newly elected MP. It was so great to share my experiences with other fellows and to hear the issues that David will be looking at when he comes to the US next year. He is really interested in social mobility.