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Life for our kids should be more than struggling to survive

Written by Julie Chapman, CEO KidsCan

While her classmates scrambled up the hill on school camp in their sports shoes, Annie* tried to keep up. On her feet were her mother’s best shoes: white flats better suited to an office. They were three sizes too big for her, so her teacher had taped them onto her feet. It was the best her family could do. Annie’s only pair of shoes were sandals - and she’d been told explicitly that she needed enclosed shoes for hill climbing.

So much about this story - which I heard recently from a Christchurch principal - gets me.

The child struggling to participate in the way she should be able to. The teacher doing what she can so her student doesn’t miss out. The mother offering the best she can muster. I imagine how she felt sending her daughter to camp, unable to provide her with the sturdy footwear she needed.

This is just one school waiting for KidsCan’s help. There are 35 more.

Winter is a miserable time for their kids who are living in hardship. Principals are sharing stories of children coming to school in ill-fitting hand-me-downs, or with holes in their soles, or in cheap canvas shoes that stay wet when it rains. It means they feel the cold far more than they should.

We can’t expect kids to focus in class when their feet are freezing, or their uniform is wet, or their tummies are growling. Perhaps the best example of this was from a student who got stuck on a creative writing exercise. “Just write what’s in your head,” the teacher told him. She came back to find he’d filled the page. “I’m hungry, I’m hungry. I’m hungry” it read. For him, that was consuming. If your basic needs aren’t met, your brain can’t learn.

We can’t underestimate the impact that has. It’s not just feeling hungry - it’s feeling shame. Kids notice when they don’t have what others have. They don’t want to be different. And when they’re overwhelmed by shame, they’re not learning.

So first, we have to make sure our kids are warm, dry, and fed. This is where KidsCan steps in - so teachers don’t have to. This year alone we’ve sent out over 37,000 cosy raincoats and 20,000 pairs of solid shoes. On average, we’re feeding over 31,000 children a week with breakfast, snacks, and increasingly, hot meals - because that might be the only one they get in a day.

We do this because we think the best chance a child has to break the cycle of poverty is through education. We want them to enjoy school, and get a job they love. We want them to learn that life can be more than just a struggle to survive.

This shouldn’t be happening in New Zealand. Let’s ease the burden on overworked teachers so they can focus on teaching. Let’s help overwhelmed parents who are just trying to do their best. And most of all, let’s give kids like Annie the basics they deserve, no matter what.

We've made our choice. Our choice is to be part of the solution. What will yours be?

Annie’s school is one of 35 waiting for KidsCan help. It won’t just mean food, shoes, a raincoat and health items - it will mean a chance at an education. To donate visit


This article has been republished with permission from the author: Julie Chapman, CEO KidsCan.



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