Anti-bul­ly­ing an­gel an­swers the call

Central Otago Mirror - - OUT & ABOUT - RHYS CHAM­BER­LAIN Read the full story at

‘‘I'm al­ways in the back seat do­ing the don­key work and that's fine by me.’’

Chat­ting to Karla San­ders im­me­di­ately boosts your zest for life and puts some faith back in hu­man­ity.

She ini­tially called a pro­posed get-to­gether over cof­fee her ‘‘worst night­mare’’.

San­ders hates the spot­light ... but she de­serves it.

The 38-year-old Alexan­dra mum is the co-founder of the na­tion­wide move­ment Sticks ‘n Stones.

It’s an on­line anti-bul­ly­ing group fronted and run by high school kids.

Since 2012, mem­bers have been to con­fer­ences in Washington DC, Mel­bourne and Ire­land. They’ve been in­vited to Gov­ern­ment meet­ings at Par­lia­ment. They’ve been on tele­vi­sion, in news­pa­pers and on the ra­dio. Some were even in­vited to meet the Queen.

But the now 300-strong group comes from hum­ble be­gin­nings in Cen­tral Otago.

Be­hind it all, se­cur­ing fund­ing and do­ing those me­nial tasks, is San­ders.

Even after she’s been made aware this story is about her, she makes it very clear that what drives the move­ment are some very bright and pas­sion­ate young peo­ple.

‘‘There’s al­ways young peo­ple do­ing some­thing in­cred­i­ble. These guys are col­leagues. It’s not like they are my min­ions.’’

San­ders doesn’t want to be the face of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

‘‘That’s why you don’t see a lot of me...I’m al­ways in the back seat do­ing the don­key work and that’s fine by me.’’

But it’s clear Sticks ‘n Stones would not be suc­cess­ful with­out San­ders and her love of ‘‘em­pow­er­ing young peo­ple’’.

Re­cently the group se­cured a grant from telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant Voda­fone, which has al­lowed San­ders to fi­nally be em­ployed full time.

It’s a far cry from the days when every­one thought her idea for Sticks ‘n Stones would ’’never work’’.

The Christchurch-born teacher moved to Alexan­dra in 2010 to ‘‘marry a lo­cal farmer’’ but couldn’t get a teach­ing job.

Faced with a dilemma, San­ders ap­plied for a Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment grant to launch an idea she’d had, Sticks n’ Stones.

‘‘I said that I would get stu­dents and that we would cre­ate some­thing amaz­ing...I never in the world thought any­one would give us money.’’

With an app in pro­to­type and a trip to Swe­den on the agenda this year, Sticks ‘n Stones is at the point it needs other paid staff.

Most of the kids who joined while at school are still in­volved de­spite be­ing away at univer­sity, and half of the group’s board are young peo­ple.

The group plans to ex­pand into Queen­stown and South­land schools this year and pos­si­bly in­tro­duce a pro­gramme for pri­mary school-aged pupils.

San­ders is proud.

‘‘We’ve got the op­por­tu­nity to im­pact re­ally pos­i­tively on young peo­ple and show them that they mat­ter.

‘‘We know that we’ve done some great work but now there’s an enor­mous amount more to do.’’

Sticks ‘n Stones co-founder and project fa­cil­i­ta­tor Karla San­ders.

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