24 Nov 2017

Santa arrives early for 4000 children in Ōtara

1:42 pm on 24 November 2017

About 4000 students in south Auckland's Ōtara will be receiving a Christmas gift through a community initiative.

Johana Temomo

Project leader Johana Temomo. Photo: RNZ/ Sela Jane Hopgood

About 68 per cent of Ōtara's population is of Pacific descent.

This year, thanks to the 'Christmas Present Drop' project, many Māori and Pacific children in Ōtara will have a present this festive season.

Project leader Johana Temomo said the idea came to her six months ago.

"I did a lot of work in Ōtara and one day I was in a park and I saw a lot of children and not really many adults around, just a lot of children.

"I worked long hours and the kids were at the park all day right till late and I thought, 'wouldn't it be great to give something back to these children'?

"It's such a great community full of great people with big hearts, why not?" she said.

Every single kindergarten, primary school and intermediate in Ōtara will be part of the first Christmas Present Drop.

Principals and teachers of the schools were in disbelief when Ms Temomo shared the news that their children would be receiving such a donation.

"The staff were just in such disbelief. They kept saying, new presents? $10 value new presents? Really?

Social worker Soane Papali'i deals with some of the country's most vulnerable communities in Ōtara by offering support and mentoring services.

Mr Papali'i said this was a chance to give back to the children to hopefully inspire them.

Johana Temomo

Soane Papali'i. Photo: RNZ/ Sela Jane Aholelei Hopgood

"I don't know what these children's Christmas is like, but we want to brighten that up before the 25th of December.

"I remember when I was a kid, mum and dad used to work, but there were times when we were financially disabled from getting presents.

"We want to make sure we help any child in that situation ends up with a smile on their face," he said.

The goal is 10,000 presents to make sure every student under the age of 13 receives a gift.

And Samoan former professional boxer David Tua is championing the project.

David Tua

David Tua. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

Mr Tua will be dressed as Santa the week of school visits to deliver the presents as well as former rugby league player Ruben Wiki and New Zealand professional boxer Shane Cameron.

Public health team leader of South Seas Healthcare Clinic Shaun Tautali is part of the committee offering a hand.

"It was a great opportunity for us to support it as a community organisation that is already in Ōtara working alongside our people.

"It's a really positive thing and it's Christmas and I think our contribution in a small way will help to achieve this goal," he said.

Mr Papali'i said a project like this could be just the spark that a child in Ōtara needed.

"Ōtara is vibrant and it's ripe with culture. Ōtara has had its stigma, its had its fair share of history, but we want to break that mentality of poverty.

"Not all families in Ōtara are poor. Some kids come from families where both parents work.

"There are families that do struggle, who obviously live beyond their means or don't have enough to make ends meet.

"What we hope this project does for these kids is no matter what their situation is like living in Ōtara, anything is possible," he said.

Spare presents will go to children attending the local Christmas in the Park event and the committee also encourages families in Ōtara who have children that do not attend school to get in touch.

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