24 Apr 2024

Northland students get enough donations to attend US competition

12:01 pm on 24 April 2024
Motatau 12-year-olds Te Maioha Tipene, left, and Zacchaeus Tua test their aquabot in the school pool.

Motatau 12-year-olds Te Maioha Tipene, left, and Zacchaeus Tua test their aquabot in the school pool. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

A flood of donations from all over Aotearoa means four children from a tiny Northland school will travel to the United States to compete in a global underwater robotics challenge.

The students from Motatau School, southwest of Kawakawa, have been fundraising frantically since they placed second in a regional aquabots challenge - making them eligible for the world finals in Washington DC next month.

They held hāngī, food stalls and raffles, with marae and iwi organisations pitching in with donations.

But the $61,000 target remained a long way off for the kids from isolated Motatau Valley, which is rich in community spirit but not in cash.

That was until the rest of New Zealand heard about their dream of competing in the US.

Teacher Emma Marsh described the response as "overwhelming and humbling".

The kids' Givealittle page jumped to $6000-plus after RNZ's Morning Report ran a story about their quest in early April.

That was followed by a story on TVNZ a few weeks later, followed by a piece on Te Karere, "and it just blew up in five minutes to $20,000".

In the days afterwards, the Givealittle total kept ticking up until it reached $42,205.

"After the RNZ story we got a lot of emails and phone calls. People loved the grass roots story about how four tamariki were going to America to compete in an aquabots challenge," she said.

"Science organisations wanted to give koha, even a nun in a convent in Wellington got in touch wanting to donate $1000 to the cause. It's just amazing the support that's out there for our little tamariki."

Coupled with the community's own fundraising efforts, the Givealittle donations propelled the kids to their target of $61,182.73.

Air fares made up the bulk of the costs, but accommodation, transport, competition and museum entry fees also added up.

"The amount of support we have received has been overwhelming and humbling," Marsh said.

"We have been overwhelmed with phone calls and emails, and we've received amazing stories of both encouragement and support ... They came from individuals and families that have associations with Motatau School, people who themselves went to small country schools, but also people who listen to the radio on their way to work who called us saying, 'Hey, I heard your interview and we want to make a donation to help these tamariki get to this fantastic opportunity in America'."

Marsh said the four students heading to the competition were "very, very excited".

"Now they're even more determined to make a great go of the aquabot design, and do everything they possibly can to put their best feet forward - to make their people proud, and all the people who've supported their kaupapa proud."

Marsh believed the story had struck a chord with New Zealanders.

"Everyone opened their arms, even though we are in really uncertain times. It's just so humbling to see the absolute support from people listening to the radio and watching the news on TV," she said.

"Because we come from such a small, rural town - there's just 60 tamariki at our school - we've never been exposed to these sorts of great opportunities before. Who didn't know anything about robotics to be honest when we were approached by He Iwi Kotahi Tatou Trust to see if we want to try it, and we thought, 'We'll give it a go'. I think that pulled on a few heartstrings."

Marsh had a message for everyone who had helped the children fulfil their dream of competing in America.

"He mihi nui ki a koutou katoa mō koutou nei koha ki a matou ngā tamariki o Motatau Kura. We thank each and every one of you for your time, and your koha, and giving our tamariki the opportunity to spread their wings. You have all made this possible and we're so humbled and so grateful to each and every one of you."

The trip included a visit to a world-leading marine research institute, with Marsh hoping the students would be able to apply what they learned to restoring their awa (river). The team took its name from a local stream, Taikirau.

The group will leave on 27 May and return on 8 June.

The four tamariki - Te Maioha Tipene, 12, Zacchaeus Tua, 12, Christina Brown, 13, and Aumaarire Prime, 12 - will be joined by one whānau member each, as well as principal Donna Adams, Chris Mahanga from Moerewa-based He Iwi Kotahi Tatou Trust, and the team's aquabots tutor Gareth Bodle.

Mahanga and Bodle's travel to the US is funded separately.

The SeaPerch international aquabotics competition would take place at the University of Maryland, Washington DC, on 31 May and 1 June.

Up to 20,000 students will put their underwater robots to the test in a series of challenges.

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