Home for a night was a cardboard box
St Gerard’s School children spent last Thursday night camped out in cardboard boxes to get a sense of what it’s like to be homeless, sleeping on ground sheets and eating plain boiled rice for breakfast. Part of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand Social Justice Week, which started on Sunday and runs until Saturday, the Catholic initiative focuses on what it means to be ‘‘food secure’’. Pupils expanded on the theme by also examining poverty and lack of life’s essentials such as shelter and running water. Teacher Angela Moeke said that in high winds and rain, year 7 and 8 children set up cardboard boxes under the school’s verandas at 7 on the Thursday night. After a movie and a few spotlight games, they bundled themselves into sleeping bags and went to sleep about 11.15pm. The night ‘‘roughing it’’ was not uneventful, with the school bell going off mysteriously at midnight, followed by a visit from a cat at 3am, doing the rounds of the box houses, which some of the children found funny and others ‘‘a bit scary’’. By 5am all was well and at 6.30am everyone started to stir, in anticipation of parents bringing boiled rice for breakfast at 7.45am. School started at 9am with a debrief about what the children got out of the experience. Some said they would not mind sleeping in a cardboard box every night, though others said that while it was fun and felt a bit like camping, they were glad they were not sleeping on wet grass and would not like eating only rice every day or being unable to wash or brush their teeth. During the discussion, the chil- dren learned that homeless people were not just ‘‘old men hanging around dumpsters’’, but that in some countries they were also children and families who did not have homes due to their parents being unemployed. For instance, in Colorado in the United States, one in 50 children were homeless and the average age was nine years old, who were living in cars, shelters, women’s refuge, boarding houses, garages, camping grounds or on the streets. As ‘‘Young Vinnies’’, the children were asked to research homeless shelters in New Zealand and to think of a project that would help these people. One of the ideas was to fundraise or ask for donations for toilet bag contents such as soap and a face cloth, toothpaste and toothbrush, which they considered to be ‘‘just a little thing to make people feel like they’re a human being’’.
A rice breakfast: St Gerard’s School pupils tuck in after a homeless night – Olivia Kotcamp, left, Gabrielle Tohill and Chantal Lauder, all 12, and Tanya Ferreira and Hannah Anderson, both 13.
Boxing on: Tyla O’Neil (left) and Meg Breen, both 11, and Alisha Craddock, 12, carry away the box they slept in to mark Social Justice Week at St Gerard’s School in Alexandra.