Group an an­ti­dote to ru­ral iso­la­tion

Since its in­cep­tion in Septem­ber 2011, the Ru­ral Women’s So­cial Group has been meet­ing monthly at the Oko­roire Ho­tel for drinks, chats and the oc­ca­sional guest speaker. Meet­ings are on the first Thurs­day of ev­ery month, with the most re­cent on Novem­ber 7.

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In Fe­bru­ary 2008, Sian van Heu­ven, a 33-year-old from Southamp­ton, Eng­land moved to Te Poi for love.

She was work­ing as an Ac­ci­dent & Emer­gency nurse and mar­ried to a lo­cal boy, a dairy farmer, but de­spite th­ese con­nec­tions to the dis­trict, Ms van Heu­ven found that, iron­i­cally, many of the up­sides to ru­ral liv­ing were also the down­sides.

As much as she en­joyed the pri­vacy and iso­la­tion of farm life, it meant that it was dif­fi­cult to meet peo­ple and branch out so­cially.

Three years later, in Septem­ber 2011, Ms van Heu­ven co- founded the Ru­ral Women’s So­cial Group for women who live in the ru­ral ar­eas of the dis­trict.

The av­er­age age of

the at­ten­dees at the most re­cent meet­ing ap­peared to be early 30s.

The group dy­namic is al­ways in­ter­est­ing; life gets in the way and may pre­vent some­one from at­tend­ing a meet­ing here and there but that face will pop up again soon enough.

All are wel­come and there is no fee to join.

In short, it is an in­for­mal night out to have a drink, a chat, a laugh and some prover­bial girl talk.

It was clear by the friendly and some­times play­fully teas­ing rap­port that many of the at­ten­dees have forged friend­ships with one another out­side of this monthly meet­ing.

The at­ten­dees are a colour­ful group and the cul­tural mix is part of their charm.

At the Novem­ber meet­ing, there were a few Cana­di­ans, a hand­ful of Brits, and Ki­wis mak­ing up the bal­ance.

Of the Ki­wis, some are lo­cal and oth­ers are trans­plants from all around the coun­try.

Their jobs are as varied as their back­grounds; that night, I met a nurse, two phys­io­ther­a­pists, a teacher turned dairy farmer, a stayat- home mum and a jew­ellery maker, among oth­ers.

All of the women agreed that liv­ing re­motely makes hav­ing a night out lo­gis­ti­cally more dif­fi­cult than for city- dwellers, which only serves to heighten the iso­la­tion many ru­ral men and women al­ready feel.

Per­haps Emma, a phys­io­ther­a­pist from Eng­land, put it best.

‘‘The one thing I find is that peo­ple are re­ally friendly here on the sur­face but be­cause every­body al­ready knows every­body, it’s re­ally hard to break through the lay­ers. That’s why this group is so great.’’

Miriam Co­hen- Kra­j­den (MCK) sat down with Ms van Heu­ven (SVH) and sev- eral other mem­bers to get a closer view of the group and what it has to of­fer.

MCK: How would you de­scribe the group? What does it give you?

SVH: Like-minded young women get­ting to­gether, to chew the fat, break up the day.

MCK: Why did you found the group?

SVH: I needed the friends! (laughs) No, re­ally, I needed to get out and meet some peo­ple.

Photo: MIRIAM CO­HEN-KRA­J­DEN

Gath­er­ing: Mem­bers of the Ru­ral Women’s So­cial Group at Oko­roire Ho­tel.

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