Home for a night was a card­board box

Central Otago Mirror - - CENTRAL NEWS - By MARY-JO TO­HILL

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.

Pho­tos: MARY-JO TO­HILL/ FAIR­FAX NZ

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.

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