Lynette and Allan Rowan are missing out on the joys of being grandparents, instead, the Waiuku couple are bringing up their grandchildren.

"That's the saddest part, is that we don't get to be grandparents," Lynette told the Herald.

"We do the yelling, the screaming and we punish them - that's the part we don't like because we should not have to."

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The Rowans took on the responsibility because the children could no longer live with their parents, who were struggling with their own problems.

Asked why the children could not live with them, Lynette said "breakdowns, relationships, drugs and alcohol" were to blame.

Five of their grandchildren now live with them - four brothers and the fifth, their cousin - with a sixth having recently moved out of the home.

Three of the brothers were on the Variety Kiwi Kid Sponsorship (KKS) programme - the first starting on the programme four years ago.

Lynette and Allan Rowan live in Waiuku with their five grandchildren. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Lynette and Allan Rowan live in Waiuku with their five grandchildren. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Variety, the children's charity, started KKS in a bid to help parents pay for back-to-school costs, such as uniforms, stationery and extra-curricular activities.

And it was in the sporting arena the grandchildren excelled but it would not have been possible without the help of Variety, Lynette explained.

"The sponsors are making those children be normal children," she said.

"They then don't have that thing where they can't afford it, that stigma attached to them. There's nothing worse than having to say, 'oh, my parents can't afford it'.

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"We're not well off, we don't act like it and we do not pretend to be, but with the sponsorship, the kids get that little bit extra."

Around the same time the KKS started, the 61-year-old received a double lung transplant which hospitalised her for some time.

"Financially, when I was sick, we went broke," she said.

"I was in hospital for three months but I don't know what would have happened to the boys if I didn't have the transplant."

A former smoker, Lynette now sometimes speaks to school kids about why they should not smoke cigarettes.

Post-operation she felt as though she had to give back to her community - one that doesn't fully understand what the family was going through.

'You do what's best for them, not necessarily the best for us'. Photo / Jason Oxenham
'You do what's best for them, not necessarily the best for us'. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"We've had a lot of support from friends and we've lost a lot of friends from having the kids because socially we're not able to go anywhere," Lynette said.

"We're very distant from them and so that's really hard. But we've made new friends and they know where we stand and what's going on.

"Some of them don't have grandkids and they're our age, they just don't understand … they think we're crazy, sometimes we are crazy, but they're our grandkids."

Allan said he was nearing 65 years old and while he could have been retired by now, he and his wife of 40 years are still needing to work.

Self-employed, the Rowans run a commercial cleaning business but cannot operate full-time due to Lynette's health and because they have to care for the boys.

They had been caring for their grandchildren for the past 12 years after the then Child, Youth and Family knocked on their door.

Lynette and Allan Rowan look after five grandchildren, three of whom are on Kiwi Kid Sponsorship. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Lynette and Allan Rowan look after five grandchildren, three of whom are on Kiwi Kid Sponsorship. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"CYFs came to us and said if we don't take the kids, they'll be split them up and we'll send them around the country so what do you do?" Allan said.

"Even though I'm a lot older than their mother and father, they're better with us than with them.

"You do what's best for them, not necessarily the best for us but what's best for them."

The Rowans wanted to thank the life-changing help Variety and the KKS sponsors had provided their grandchildren.

Lynette also asked for people to think about how they could help other underprivileged children through the charity.

"Definitely help because it gives the caregiver a little bit more in their pocket to be able to give back to the kids in a different way."

How you can help Variety take care of our most vulnerable

Around 500 children in need are currently on Variety's waiting list - many of them going without the basic essentials of everyday life.

And sponsors could have a dramatic impact on their quality of life, Variety's national programme manager Emma Bolwell said.

One way to get involved was through the Kiwi Kid Sponsorship, which three of the Rowans grandchildren receive.

"All it takes is at least $45 a month to provide school and other essentials for a Kiwi kid in need," Bolwell said.

"We provide this programme so every child has the same opportunity for a happy, healthy childhood."

It provided tailored support so underprivileged children could access essentials like clothing, bedding, school uniforms and stationery.

Twenty-three per cent of children in New Zealand lived in low-income households according to the 2019 Child Poverty Monitor Technical report.

That's 254,000 children - more than the entire population of Wellington which was 212,700 in 2017, according to the United Nations.

Those households had a disposable income of less than 50 per cent of the national median, after housing costs, Bolwell said.

"These are the families that struggle with everyday basics including back-to-school-related costs."

To sponsor a child visit www.variety.org.nz