Letter to New Zealand

March 19, 2019

An open letter from Rochana Sheward, CEO of Belong Aotearoa (Formerly known as ARMS) to New Zealand.

After the shock and disbelief of the mass shooting about how could this take place in our small part of the world, there is an urgency and need of people wanting to do something. There is an overwhelming want and need for people to show their support; to do something practical to help and to heal our nation.

Over the weekend as our staff members and trusts were affected by the events in Christchurch, we too have been thinking as to what we can and should do to help show our support. Today, Belong Aotearoa (Formerly known as ARMS) have been receiving emails and phones calls from people wanting to reach out and needing guidance as to how they can help. We feel we are similarly placed and have been monitoring and passing on information and practical tips through our Facebook page as they have emerged. There are things people and organisations can do with some of them being:

  • Give money to the families affected by the terrorist acts. They will need all the support they can get to deal with the immediate and ongoing trauma they are facing.
  • Donate to one of the charities like NZ Red Cross who are mobilising their people to support the Christchurch community
  • Give blood. In particular, hospitals are requesting blood type A and O.

A key action Belong Aotearoa thinks needs to take place in the medium to long term is having conversations about racism and ask  “What is kiwi identity?” and “What values do we have?”

The Spin off cartoon “This is us” is a poignant commentary on the state of the nation. https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/18-03-2019/this-is-us/

At the end of 2017 after Belong Aotearoa had engaged with over 1100 new migrants asking them what some of the challenges they have faced in settlement, in living and working in New Zealand, the underlining issue that went across all the areas of education, employment, statuary agencies was racism. I started to talk about this when I met with people of influences and received mixed responses, most people are not sure how to respond or discuss further. On our Facebook page the other week we posted an article about civic participation and how the white noise was getting in the way of a diverse voice that is in our communities, this led to an interesting exchange of comments including being told we are racist against white people.

“Is that what people are feeling?” I thought. ””Is that why people are holding grunges against people of different colour” “Are they sacred that the smaller voices might be heard? “.

The Humans Rights commission did a great job with their campaign “Give nothing to racism” and maybe we need something like what they did run again at a larger scale. More than that, at the same time we need to be able to talk about it; to discuss it and not fall back and say “oh its unconscious bais”. Stop thinking it’s an unconscious bias and start talking. By talking we acknowledge racism and can address it; there will be no more excuses.  

This Thursday 21st March is Race Relations Day The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Attend one of the many events around the city and start a conversation.

Start having discussions with others outside your normal circle of people. Have a discussion about stereotypes, about your assumptions of people and how we classify people. If you don’t get along with someone from a different culture, question why. Discuss ways in which you can help stop racism. Think about the leadership we need to create a better future – does it involve you stepping up or you making room to ensure the right voices are heard and included. How are you and we going to have a sense of belonging and trust in our country.  These are just some of the conversations you can start having today. These conversations will turn into actions that we can do together to increase our sense of belonging, protect and heal our communities.