The new school year is an exciting time for many children around New Zealand. It means getting a new uniform, lunchbox, stationery and school bag, meeting up with friends, looking forward to camp or joining a sports team.
But it's a very different story for the one in four Kiwi kids living in poverty.
Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety – the Children's Charity, says the end of January is a difficult time for many New Zealand families trying to do the best for their kids – and her team is struggling to keep up with demand for help with the basics.
Many families are unable to afford back-to-school basics like uniforms and stationery, she says.
"These families have such a deep sense of shame and teachers tell us some children are kept at home until Mum and Dad can pay for these things," she says. "These kids miss out on the vital first weeks of school, are isolated from their peers and feel like they don't belong.
"In other cases, children will be coming to school in a uniform that doesn't fit or is incomplete, they're going without books and school bags, and they're not able to join in on activities and trips with their classmates."
Taylor's comments come as Variety launches an appeal for New Zealanders to sponsor a child through its Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme. It is asking Kiwis to contribute $45 per month to help provide funding for one child's essential school costs.
Variety hopes to find sponsors for children and families like the following, who are among 500 on its waiting list across New Zealand:
• Joshua* needs a new uniform that his family can't afford. He is the eldest of three children in a single-income family finding it hard to pay for anything after rent, food and utilities have been covered. His Dad is a full-time rest home health care assistant and his Mum is a full-time caregiver to him and his siblings. Being the oldest, there are no hand-me-downs.
• Annie* is a single Mum who gave up her bus driving job to care for her 82-year- old father along with her three children, one with cerebral palsy. With school starting in a few weeks, Annie has turned to Variety in the hope of finding a sponsor for her children so they can have a uniform, shoes, stationery and school bag.
Rhonda Kelly, principal of Tāmaki Primary School says in her experience every parent wants to ensure their child has everything they need to succeed at school and it can be an anxious time for parents and children who, for whatever reason, are not equipped with the basics they need for that success.
"It can be a very humbling experience for our families when their child receives Variety assistance," she says. "We have had some very emotional moments when mothers have cried when they have been told their child has Variety sponsorship - it takes away a huge burden."
Variety is hoping to attract up to 500 new sponsors through the appeal.
Taylor says that $45 a month is all it takes to give an individual child exactly what they need – it might be clothing, shoes, stationery, camp fees, sports fees and other extra-curricular costs.
"Most families are looking at an outlay of around $440 per child at the start of the school year, and for many this is a big financial burden," she says. "Education is free, but access to education isn't."
The growing issue of child poverty in New Zealand has also been highlighted by the 2019 Child Poverty Monitor which shows 174,000 children are living in households not always able to afford healthy food and 148,000 are in homes experiencing material hardship.
"Every child deserves an education and the opportunities to learn," says Taylor. "Their family's financial circumstances are not the child's fault and should not be a barrier for them to make the most out of school. Those on our waiting list are in desperate need of the help a sponsor can provide."
Generous Variety sponsors are already helping over 4,700 children throughout New Zealand but the charity always has more children in need than they have sponsors.
"It is such a positive way to make a difference in a child's life," says Taylor. "It is also a good message for other children as they see those less fortunate being helped."
To sponsor a Kiwi kid today click here.
*Names have been changed.