Tommy Kapai: Time to find solutions for our kids

By Tommy Kapai


They say there is no such thing as a free feed but when it comes to our own children most of us as parents make sure there is always kai on the table for our kids, whatever the cost may be.

When I was a young fella growing up in a family of 11 kids I can never remember going to school hungry - or when I got back.

We always had a mountain of Weetbix to plough through in the morning followed with toast and tea - as much as you wanted.

When we got home from school hungrier than a beggar at a banquet, there was always a doorstep of Ada Parnwell's fresh barracuda bread, smothered in golden syrup on top of a generous layer of bright yellow butter.

Mum always had back-up growing in the garden and a weekend treat of a Sunday roast with steamed pudding made life in our household as happy as a child could ever ask for.

We didn't mind having flour bags sown into our pants for winter warmth or wrapping up new school uniforms as Christmas presents because we always went to school with a puku full of kai and a pocket full of mum's love.

So we never went hungry, nor did any other kids I went to school with as far as I can remember.

This was back in the day when parents put their kids first and time was a luxury spent on your tamariki, not on yourself.

I know mum went without more times than she let on and the joy on her face when I would come home from selling papers at the pub after school, and share my putea with her will forever remain one of life's highlights.

Today, the time spent by parents with their tamariki is way out of whack and it is this time that I believe is the answer to the free food in schools dilemma we are facing at the moment.

For me, feeding our hungry kids at school is not the solution.

By providing kai for them to be fed by their parents in their own home could be.

In many Maori communities where the Marae is still the cornerstone then feeding the children has been and always will be paramount.

In my line of work at Te Tuinga Social Services, I see the signs of poverty every day.

It walks in our front door written across the faces of mothers who are struggling to feed their families and I try to tell them about this precious free commodity called time.

Time is the kai we need to be feeding our kids and when we ask ourselves honestly how much time are we spending with our children then I believe we will get the answer to how well they are doing at school.

Sounds simple but in my experience there is an absolute time investment parallel between the problems and the solutions we face in the modern day instant everything family - of every ethnicity.

The same goes for education. When we spend little or no time teaching our tamariki to read at home then this will show at school.

If our kids aren't doing too well at school, then perhaps we should be asking ourselves - not the teacher - why?

Sure we can dish out the free feed of Weetbix and the hanawiti. But when we do this it takes away the time parents could be and should be spending with their kids, and are we legitamising laziness when we turn on the kai clock at school and the time tap gets turned off at home?

If every struggling home has a weekly box of free Weetbix and milk to kick start their day and the parents' sprinkle a little time and sugar on them, then the schools can get on with what they are best at - teaching and not feeding our kids.

In this age of instant gratification, where we are spending more time on Facebook than time at the kai table, perhaps it is time to log on to just how important the commodity of time is to our tamariki.

There is no such thing as a free feed at home or in the class and if we don't start feeding our kids free time like my mother did, then we could well be paying for it in the future.

Tommy Kapai is a Tauranga author and writer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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