24 Apr 2023

'We had to do something': Cook Islanders dig deep to help Aotearoa

12:03 pm on 24 April 2023
Members of Tauturu Aotearoa with the cheque for New Zealand.

Members of Tauturu Aotearoa with the cheque for New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

Cook Islanders have raised more than $50,000 to support New Zealand's ongoing Cyclone Gabrielle relief efforts.

In February, Gabrielle slammed the North Island.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead, surpassing Cyclone Bola in 1988 when seven people died.

"We couldn't just watch. We felt we had to do something," said the former Deputy Prime Minister Norman George, who was at the helm of the fundraising initiative.

The campaign raised $NZ52,892 and the cheque has been handed over to the New Zealand High Commission in Rarotonga.

"The population of the Cook Islands now stands about 18,000 people. And we raise $52,892!" he said.

"It's quite substantial for a small number of people."

The cyclone hit Hawke's Bay right in the middle of cyclone season.

"We are born into cyclone conditions, just about every year," said George.

"Any sign of cyclones over here in the Cook Islands, the first people to arrive will be the New Zealand Air Force on a Hercules aircraft, bringing in supplies, emergency supplies, medical assistance.

"But to see Aotearoa hit like that is a very sad, very hurtful," he said.

He turned that hurt into action; a big barbecue filled with parrot fish caught from the lagoon in Aitutaki was one event.

Also on the list was a fancy dinner.

"We had this wonderful dinner arrangement charging $100 a plate so that it cost me and my wife $200 to go and eat foods like mutton bird," George said.

This is not his first large fundraiser - in 1988 when he was a government minister, Cyclone Bola hit Aotearoa.

"I was able to use government resources to drive the fundraising, " he said.

The community raised $NZ66,000 at that time.

The figure was higher then for two reasons: he had a strong position in government, and the population of the Cook Islands was higher at the time.

"I'm just a humble lawyer practising law. I've had my turn, I spent 31 years in Parliament, and went as far as Deputy Prime Minister and Speaker."

"Our population is not the same as in 1988. We're down to 18,000. About that time we would have had about 30,000 people here.

This year's donation was well received by the New Zealand representatives.

He shared stories of hard-working women going door-to-door to collect money.

"I've had a gentleman who used to live in Hawke's Bay, who came to donate $100 and he said: 'Please don't release my name. I'm just doing it because I love Hawke's Bay.' And there's a man who didn't need publicity for his efforts."