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Posts Tagged ‘cultures’

Material World - A Global Family Portrait

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By Peter Menzel

material_photo11For the photos in this stunning book, photographers spent one week living with a “statistically average” family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a “big picture” shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods. Statistics and a brief history for each country are included as well as personal notes from the photographers about their experiences.

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

A year volunteering in South Africa

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Interview by Tessa Johnstone

felicitygibsonFelicity Gibson, 22, was interested in understanding other countries — not just seeing them through a camera or tour bus window. That’s why she took a year out from her degree to volunteer in South Africa and “gain a new perspective on the world.”

Felicity spent a year volunteering through an initiative organised by New Zealand Aotearoa-based Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) and University of Otago’s Geography Studies faculty. She worked as a Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, based in Students Partnership Worldwide’s (SPW) East London, South Africa office and regularly traveling to communities in the Eastern Cape to support volunteers working in the field.

SPW runs youth empowerment programmes in South Africa, primarily with the Xhosa people, in which local and international volunteers are paired up together and provide health education and awareness, training for job and life skills, help to set up clubs and activities for the community, set up resource and library centres, and facilitate peer education.

Felicity’s job was to go into the communities where the youth empowerment programmes were run, and come up with a good system to look at how the programmes were working for the community and the volunteers.

Youth is an extra bonus groupof4

Volunteering gives you a lot of work experience and job skills, which Felicity points out is invaluable for young people. Young people, as well, offer a lot to the organisations and communities they volunteer with.
“I think being young meant I had the right attitude going in to the experience. Many of the older volunteers I talked to were worried about how they were going to handle the different working environment and lack of resources.
“But because I had very little working experience, I had nothing to compare my job to and so was very adaptable to the environment and willing to give things a try.
“This lack of experience also meant that I did not go in their thinking that there was only one right way to do things and did not try and do every thing my own way. I was happy just to go with the flow and learn from others.
“I think volunteers must be open-minded to the fact that people have different sets of knowledge and be prepared to learn and share. It is very important that volunteers remember that they are there to help, not hinder an organisation.”

Daily life is an experience
Felicity feels lucky to have experienced both life in the South African office and that of her fellow international volunteers working in villages.
“I think all of us international volunteers had very rewarding experiences and each faced challenges unique to our situation. Most importantly we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs together.”
Felicity lived in a small apartment in East London, but experienced the living conditions of volunteers working in smaller communities as well.
“Living in South Africa was certainly not easy. For example, while we lived in town, we could not leave the house after dark as we had no car and it was too dangerous to walk anywhere.
“In the rural communities, volunteers were placed in rondavels [mud huts] with a host family. Rondavels usually had one room where sleeping, eating and cleaning all occurred.”
All SPW volunteers experience very basic living conditions, often with no running water, though most have some electricity. Travel is done by shared minibus or taxi, which Felicity describes entertainingly as “long bumpy trips crammed with people”. There is no fridge, which limits volunteers to a vegetarian diet which includes a lot of local dishes.

Being the “Young White Girl”
spwvolunteersandypOne of the most difficult challenges for Felicity was adjusting to a different culture in South Africa.
“Things looked and felt like home in South Africa, but I was expected to act differently. For example, no one ever worried about running late. This was always frustrating to me when we were holding an event and I expected to arrive early to set up but everyone always arrived after the event was meant to start as they knew that all the people attending would be even later than that.”
Felicity also observed a lot of racism, which she says was very challenging.
“There is still a lot of cultural division in South Africa and I was amazed at the extremely racist comments dropped casually into a conversation by a taxi driver, waiter or my neighbour. While there are racists in New Zealand, most people hide it. In South Africa, people who were racist were very open about it.”
Some South Africans also had skewed perceptions of Felicity, as a “Young White Girl”.
“People’s perception of white people from overseas had often been formed from the movies and so I gained somewhat of a celebrity status. As there were not often young, white girls walking round where I lived or visited I got stared at and whispered about a lot. Some people thought I had a lot of money and could therefore give them my possessions.
“However, in other settings I could feel there was a lot of trepidation about a young, white girl coming into a community with a fear I was going to tell people how to live their lives.”

The biggest learning?
Felicity says the biggest learning for her was “the most obvious”.
“I learnt about how people with little money and resources live and how hard it is for people without opportunities, like I have had, to move forward in their lives.
“Take, for example, computers. You can go to a community and many people have never seen a computer. You may then go to a township where there might be ten old computers for a school of 800 pupils. Then you might find young university students who use computers as part of their school work, however because they have never had the opportunity to use them like we do, their skills are still very low. And then you get the minority at the top that a live life like we do here in New Zealand where using a computer is an everyday occurrence. This range extends to all parts of life, with the minority at the top gaining all the experience and education and more able to take advantage of opportunities than those at the other end of the scale.”

Coming home - with new perspectives and confidence

outsideworkshopFelicity got what she wanted in a travel experience, gaining insight into what South Africa was really like.
“I was very scared of travelling to South Africa because of the horror stories I’d heard. But the country I discovered was very different to those preconceptions. For the most, everyone in South Africa was so friendly and positive. I found it quite a shock to return to New Zealand which I had always thought of as being laidback to find that I now see us as quite a melancholy country. I also learnt about the many different cultures that make up South Africa, especially the Xhosa people.”
Felicity says she came back from South Africa a more mature person.
“Throughout the year I faced so many challenges that I am really quite a different person to the one I used to be. I have a very different perspective on the world and view things in different ways. I definitely am a lot more grateful for the life I live and therefore am more determined to make the most of what I have.”
Eric Levine, founder of SPW and long-time volunteer himself, says the experience also gives you a huge amount of confidence.
“Volunteers always tell me: I came thinking I was going to teach and I learned and took away much more than I taught’,” Eric says.
“They come away with confidence times 10 to a factor of 100 — to work in difficult, under-resourced, complicated situations and be successful in change — no matter what you do in your life, people constantly are like, I am capable, I have skills, I can figure out how to do stuff’.

Felicity is back at Otago completing her Geography degree in Development Studies, though she’s not sure what will happen after that.
“I definitely believe that I was very lucky to be born in New Zealand, and that gives me a sense of social responsibility to help others who were not so lucky, whether they are from developing countries or in New Zealand itself.”
To find out more about Students Partnership Worldwide (SPW), who are working with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) to place New Zealanders aged 18 — 28 in volunteer placements for six to nine months in Southern Africa, or the VSA/Otago University Univol programme, go to or

The top photo shows Felicity with fellow SPW volunteer Greer Lamaro carrying water up from the stream in the village. All other photos courtesy of SPW volunteer training.


Want to volunteer, but not sure how to go about it ethically? Download VSA’s Volunteering Overseas Guide (1.6MB) or check out the ethical volunteering site for things to think about and tips on how to find a good organisation. And you can download Dev-Zone’s magazine, Just Change Issue 11: Good Intentions - The Ethics of Volunteering.


South Africa country profile
Xhosa entry on wikipedia news from Africa.

    Mapuche, the people of life

    Monday, December 3rd, 2007

    By Gonzalo Garcés
    Translated by AJ McDougall

    Mapuche CeremonyThe Mapuche, are a people originally from the south of Latin America, whose name means “people or persons of the earth”, and whose worldview has been intimately connected to the natural environment. It is said that “Mapu à‘uke”, or Mother Nature, has given the Mapuche culture and society the knowledge they possess. This knowledge is transmitted through conversation in sacred places of the natural world linking Mapuche to the earth and to family.

    SnakeEvery part of the natural world, including human beings and the dead, possess a spirit. Amongst them there are caring and guiding spirits of nature. For example, stones and serpents have an important role in the Mapuche way of life. Even now, the Mapuche ask permission to pass through certain places that are considered sacred. On such occasions, the Mapuche people take time to appreciate these places and ask for the protection of the earth and their families, as part of their attempts to overcome the unfortunate realities for their people.

    The sacred places, such as the paliwe and the nguillatuwe, are spaces where the Mapuche pray, give thanks, and share with the spirits their desire to see them respected and to see the Mapuche culture survive.

    The history of the Mapuche people is a history full of battles in defense of the earth. These battles have continued for more than 500 years, since the attempted takeover of the area by the Inka and the Spanish, and later the battles against the genocide attempts of Chilean and Argentinean governments at the end of the 19th Century. These attempts have not ceased, and Mapuche FarmlandChile and Argentina have increased their efforts to transform their culture into spitting images of Western society. Big business has also appeared on the scene. These businesses have claimed — and continue to claim — to those same governments that Mapuche land would be better utilised through the development of economic projects such as single-crop forestation. Yet they do so without planning nor providing for the harmful effects on both human and environmental health.

    Historically a system of private property did not exist on “Mapuche territory”. There weren’t any fences nor were there extensive plantations of single-crop forestation like that which exists today, but instead the people were free to roam. They could take freely whatever was needed for the continued sustenance of Mapu à‘uke.

    Mapuche DanceThe Chilean government has, throughout history, pushed through “social integration policies” which have attempted to destroy the unique customs of the Mapuche people, and in this way the Mapuche social organisation has been twisted and modified through the imposition of unknown and destructive social models. These politicians, who are not part of the Mapuche culture or way of life, do not understand or value the traditional lifestyles of the Mapuche people, instead imposing new lifestyles upon them.

    This is but a brief snapshot of the relationship the Mapuche people have with the state and big business.

    There currently exists a situation which is worrying. Seven Mapuche political prisoners are on a hunger strike that has recently reached 42 days. The strikers are our Mapuche peà±i (brothers) and lamgnen (sister). They are striking for: the freedom of all Mapuche political prisoners throughout various Chilean jails; demilitarisation and an end to the oppression of various roaming Mapuche communities so that they can exercise their political and territorial rights; and an end to the political-judicial conspiracies against Mapuche organisers and leaders.

    Mapuche ManTo speak of Mapuche political prisoners, and to speak of their ethnic, political, and territorial demands, has been criminalised by the Chilean government, placing the interests of big business over and above those of the Mapuche communities involved. Because of these events, Chile has received international condemnation and many recommendations to end the criminalization of the Mapuche people. One such recommendation came from the UN’s Rodolfo Stavenhagen.

    Mapuche men and women are not the violent people they are made out to be by the government through their utilisation of the media. The continued struggle of our Mapuche brothers and sisters tells us that they are not ready to renounce that which is most precious and beautiful to them: the earth, la mapu.


    You can find more information on how to support the Mapuche cause at:

    You can sign a petition to President Michelle Bachelet and the Chilean Government led by at

    Gonzalo Garcés is from Chile and is an Oxfam International Youth Partner. He recently attended Kaleidescope in Sydney, check out Pip Bennett’s article on her experience at this event.

    All photos are from


    Monday, December 3rd, 2007

    By Pip Bennett

    Four months after I had first submitted my application to become an Oxfam International Youth Partner (OIYP) I was informed that I was one of the 300 youths from around the world that had been chosen from over 3000 applications to join the programme.

    kaleidoscopeOIYP is a three year programme, which aims to build the capacity of the Action Partners (the name given to Youth Partners) by providing us with support and resources, and creating opportunities for dialogue, networking and learning. Our first opportunity came in October this year at Kaleidoscope, a festival where all of the Action Partners come together in Sydney, for nine days of workshops, dances, performances, art, theatre and meeting a zillion new people.

    Arriving in Sydney airport, we made our way to meet the Oxfam volunteers in charge of taking us to the school. We chatted with youth from Iraq and Lebanon about the war and George Bush, which was quite humourous at times because of the jokes they told expressing their feelings about Bush and his administration. Throughout the week, the situation in Iraq was certainly a feature of many discussions with many of the youth asking those from the region for their local perspective, and it seemed that the consensus was that it was detrimental to pull out U.S forces, whether or not they should have gone in the first place.

    We stayed at the oldest school in Australia, the prestigious Kings School, in Parramatta and were divided into various dorm houses. I was one of only three non-Muslim girls to stay in the Muslim side of my house. They tried to keep them separate in order to stop disturbing other non-Muslim participants while they got up early for Ramadan. Staying in this dorm was an excellent experience. Over the week I had many opportunities to discuss various topics, including religion, Islam extremists, and terrorism. The sharing of beliefs and experiences was enlightening, particularly because I have found few opportunities like this back home. There were participants from about 90 countries, from all over the world, Canada, the U.S, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Spain, Chile, and Honduras, just to name a few!

    Darug PeopleThe welcoming ceremony took place on the first night, hosted by the Darug people, the indigenous people of the area. There was Aboriginal song and dance, which was responded to by various groups such as Aotearoa New Zealand, Bangladesh, India, and First Nations of the Americas. It was an incredible start to the event, and was at times very emotional.

    The official opening ceremony was held on the Tuesday night, at the Carriage Works performance venue. It was a show by youth from the Australian Theatre for Young People and some members from Cirque du Soliel which had been inspired by world affairs and our applications for OIYP. Amongst other things, there was singing, acrobatics, and a young woman carefully balancing an spinning umbrella on her feet whilst lying backwards and upside-down on a chair.

    WorkshopDuring the week there were six plenary sessions, along with around fifty workshops, some of which were led by Action Partners. Some of the workshops were only two hours long, while others were four hours over two days. Topics ranged from project management, indigenous rights, land rights, to access to health, access to education, gender and equality, gender and sexuality, and using photography and film. They were helpful, although complaints arose due to their brevity and lack of international or easily transferable context. A complaint from the Latin Americans was that there was too great a focus on Western culture and issues, rather than a diverse representation

    There were a significant number of Spanish speakers from Spain, and Latin America, with many of them unable to speak much, if any, English. A significant proportion of Oxfam volunteers could speak Spanish, and were used during workshops as translators or at the help desk. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about Latin America, however, there were difficulties in meeting and talking with the participants outside of workshops because of the lack of linguistic understanding.

    One of the special things about OIYP was the support of indigenous participants, in particular the availability of an indigenous Australian who acted like a mentor, as well as a space available for Indigenous people to meet and discuss issues, the Indigenous Forum. Being non-indigenous myself, I was invited to attend the Indigenous Forum, which was an unforgettable experience. I heard unnerving stories, particularly from the Americas, where indigenous people are constantly ignored and their identity denied.

    Kaleidescope ArtWe had several opportunities to explore Sydney, predominantly in the evenings, although we did have one free afternoon. Many of us went to a salsa club on Friday night and some gay clubs on the Saturday. Art and dance was a significant part of Kaleidoscope, with Oxfam wanting to explore the power of various forms of art as a tool for development. There were large canvases for painting, dance, song, beat-boxing performances, all with opportunities to try it yourself. A particular highlight for me was watching dancers from Brazil, along with Capoeira performers.

    At the end of the nine days in Sydney, although ready to return home, we were all sad to leave. The opportunity to spend time with other young people with similar dreams and goals proved to us that we are not alone in our desire to see change in the world. The one thing that we keep telling each other is that this is only the beginning of our next three years as Action Partners, and that if we want to see change, we have to do it ourselves.


    For more information on OIYP, check out
    For more information about Oxfam and their work, check out

    All photos from Oxfam International, more here.

    My Space: Your Space?

    Friday, July 20th, 2007

    Jayran Mansouri

    We are often unwilling to admit that racism exists in our communities. We like to believe that in New Zealand we are open, caring and accepting. However, we just have to look beneath the surface to realise that racism is much more prevalent than we think- it may not always be obvious, but it is racism nonetheless.

    White OnlyThe term racism’ is often misunderstood. When you think about racism’, you might think about African slaves working in the cotton fields of southern America or Apartheid in South Africa. It seems so distant and you think, none of that happens in New Zealand, it doesn’t have anything to do with me’. But in order to challenge racism we have to admit it is happening in New Zealand.

    Why is there racism?
    If we are to combat racism, we need to know why it is happening in the first place.

    I see racial stereotypes as both a cause and a manifestation of racism. Stereotypes narrow our perceptions of those who are not exactly like us. Unfortunately, our brains are wired to stereotype. It is all down to human nature — we have an in-built natural instinct to classify, categorise, criticise and evaluate the unfamiliar. Most people, when faced with a culture that is unfamiliar, will want to classify, compare and contrast it with their own culture. Such a train of thought leads to an us’ and them’ mentality, which in turn can lead to fear of difference, or a sense of competition.

    Imagine for a moment a New Zealand in which everyone is identical. Everyone looks the same, has the same thoughts, the same ideals, likes the same foods, the same movies, the same music, has the same personality and follows the same religion. This of course sounds like a sci-fi book; luckily, in the real world it isn’t like that — everyone is different. But do we celebrate each person’s unique identity or do we group up into cliques and fight?

    DiversityNew Zealand society is made of many different ethnicities and cultures so could be described as multicultural’. offers this definition of multicultural’: Of, pertaining to, or representing several different cultures or cultural elements: a multicultural society. I see a positive multicultural society as one that actively supports different cultures and ethnic groups, and all can have their voices freely heard.

    Before I started this article, I thought that multiculturalism was just the presence of many different ethnic groups. I never really thought about how well they were treated and represented. It is all very well and good to live in a society in which many cultures are visible, but I believe we must make a conscious effort to provide opportunities for ALL voices to be heard and respected. Multiculturalism has many benefits, but also brings new challenges and responsibilities.

    What does all this mean for young people?
    In an increasingly multicultural and globalised world, racism will be an especially important issue for our generation to tackle. We need a vision of how we want the future to be when it is our turn to lead society. We need to be informed — there will come a time when we are leading the world and setting the examples for the future generation.

    MouseThe Internet has made our world much “smaller”. On the Internet, we can connect with people on the other side of the world at the click of a mouse. Future technology is likely to bring our world even closer together. Through technology, we have an opportunity to become a more open-minded and worldly society, but it is up to us to take that opportunity.

    When will it end?
    Personally, I am not one of the there will always be racism’ people. It’s easy to say why bother? It’s too big a problem.’ And I agree racism is a big problem, but with the right attitude, we can and should take steps towards an open and accepting society, where people are treated equally and difference is celebrated.


    • Join or start a cultural group in your community or school
    • Hold an “International Day” at your school— get different cultural groups to do a presentation or performance and sell traditional food
    • Learn about New Zealand history and the Treaty of Waitangi


    The New Zealand Human Rights Commission website

    Information about the Treaty of Waitangi

    Statistics NZ features statistics and information about the 2006 Census

    A version of this article was originally published in JET Magazine.

    I am a Muslim

    Thursday, December 7th, 2006

    mosqueIt is a Sunday and I am inside my first ever mosque. Today is a learning day where all the young people gather to learn about their faith. Happy laughing kids run around the corridors and burqa wearing women cook up a mean sausage sizzle. I am greeted by a pākehā woman (also in a burqa) who leads me to a group of teens willing to talk about growing up as Muslims in NZ. Where are all the terrorists, I wonder slightly disappointed by the obvious joy in the mosque. Clearly they are not all into blowing themselves up and abusing women. But I had to find out for sure. What is this thing called Islam?

    I talked to three New Zealand teenagers about their life in a largely agnostic/Christian country…

    Where are your parents from and have you ever lived in another country?

    Salma: Both my parents are Arabian. I grew up in Kuwait; I was born during the Gulf War. I also lived in india and Jordon before moving to NZ.

    Did your parents leave because of war?

    Salma: They found it hard to live in a country with so much conflict. They came as refugees.

    Alam: My parents are from Fiji and I was born here. And lived here till I was 14 before moving to Dubai. We moved there for a chance to live in a Muslim country. Actually the only difference is there are mosques everywhere and you can eat easily because all the meat is halal. (Especially prepared)

    Ayeesha: Both my parents are Iraqi and lived there till I was 6 years old. Then we moved to Yemen for a year and then came here. I’ve been here for about 7 years. Iraq is not the most secure place to bring up a child and opportunities are more prolific here.

    What are you doing here today?

    Salma: We start at about 10 and we have koranic learning. We learn about it and how to read it. The little kids have to learn the alphabet. In the afternoon we have religious studies and the history of Islam.

    What are the foundations of Islam?

    Salma: In terms of moral guidelines we have the same basis of the 10 commandments. It’s just common sense and what all society is based upon. But in terms of action we have the five pillars of Islam which dictates how we live our lives and the routines we go through every day. For example we have prayer five times a day and fasting once per month.

    How do you fit praying five times a day into a normal life?

    Ayeesha: We just pray at school. We have a room.

    How long does a prayer last?

    Alam: Five minutes. But it’s quite good because it keeps you focused. It’s a very good time for reflection and you can go over your own faith.

    Do you ever get to sleep in?

    Ayeesha: Well you get up and pray and then go back to bed for a sleep in! You can live your life with praying.
    Salma: We don’t even think about it. We get raised that way. It’s not forced upon you until puberty but by then it’s just such an entrenched habit that you don’t really think twice about it.

    How could you want to get up at 6am to pray?

    Ayeesha: It’s a want. I know I will be accounted on this on the day of judgment. I’m pretty religious so I know I’ll be punished in the hereafter.

    How do you know this?

    Ayeesha: Because it’s written in the Koran.
    Does stuff going on overseas affect you?

    Ayeesha: We see what other Muslims do overseas and we think they’re going to represent Islam in a bad way and they’re going to make it look bad. If a non Muslim steals something, it’ll be he’s just a thief. But if a Muslim does it, they’re a Muslim thief and they’re distinguished big time. If you have massive numbers of Muslims dying it won’t be mentioned, but if 11 Americans die it’s a huge deal.

    Salma: The main thing that people really understand is that the reason why extremists do what they do is it’s not religious. It’s mainly political. In terms of political differences, people turn to religion. At the same time you’ve got cultural factors influencing how you understand religion. We see these people on TV, we understand they don’t mirror our sentiments and our actions but most people don’t see that. They’ve become caricatures now. I think people have to realise that what’s being shown in the media doesn’t represent. It’s in the papers constantly, on the news but those people are not the majority of Muslims. You don’t hear about the rest of us because we just lead normal lives.

    Last month national MP Bob Clarkson opened his gob and said “Islam religion-type people’ who wear burqas could be crooks hiding guns. Do you understand why he might have that attitude?

    Ayeesha: When you go through an airport, you know they are going to hard core check you. You can’t really say that because they’re wearing a burqa or abaya, they’ll be hiding weapons. They’ve got all this technology to check. They just have to pick it up and use it. You could be hiding a bomb under a jersey. Really it’s just all clothes, not just burqas.

    Have you been flying?

    Ayeesha: I went to Auckland. I wore my black abaya. They checked me hard core. She checked my bag. I was definitely being checked way more than other girls. It hurts but because of what politicians say and what’s going on, you just have to deal with it.
    muslim girl
    Could you help me understand why a female body should be covered?

    Ayeesha: It’s to do with attraction. If it’s not covered properly then the guy would be attracted and then you’d start dating and it would lead to more problems. If you start off with basic rules and you apply them, you’ll be safe.

    What if a woman feels attracted to a man? Would that be bad?

    Alam: We have our coverings as well. Most people don’t understand that it was ordered to the women to cover up but before that, the men were ordered to lower their gaze.

    Can you be attracted to someone’s personality?

    Salma: The thing is we’ve all known each other for a long time so we’re just really good buddies and we don’t think of each other that way. It’s just a good place to come and hang out with like minded people.

    How do you meet someone you could love? Do you ever dream of romance?

    Alam: All these feelings are normal for human beings and you can’t be blamed for them. What you can be blamed for is how you act on them.

    Salma: What people normally do when they want to get married is find someone else in the community who is ready to get married.

    Alam: My mother might talk to her mother.

    Salma: It’s through the grapevine of the mothers. We all know what’s going on each others lives.

    How if you’re not allowed to date. How would you meet your husband?

    Ayeesha: You don’t have to date to find a husband. We do talk to guys but you have to know your limits. My parents and I will eventually decide oh this is a good guy for me’ so I’ll sit there and talk to him, try to understand to understand what he knows about Islam. If he’s a good Muslim then he has what I’m looking for in a husband. We’ll get engaged to get to know each other a bit more and eventually we’ll get married. You don’t have to date someone to marry them.

    So it’s arranged?

    Salma: A lot of people think that arranged marriages are part of Islam. But they’re not. It’s cultural. It isn’t just Islam. Islam doesn’t force you have to arranged marriages; it’s just part of the culture. Just optional.

    So falling in love comes later?

    Ayeesha: Is he a good Muslim, that’s the first question? Does he pray in the mornings? Some people if they’re not religious, they’ll be like oh it’s so early, screw this, I’ll pray later’. But if they’re deeply religious, they will get up and pray and do the things that Muslims do.

    Is it hard to fit in here?

    Ayeesha: It was hard for me to grow up in a Muslim society and then move to NZ. There are all the actions of what New Zealanders do, such as going out and having boyfriends. Then there’s me having to apply what I learnt as a young child. It’s very difficult. But things that have made it easier for me are coming to the mosque and doing all the traditions that my parents have taught me. They keep it with them. They like tell me ok you have to pray now, so I do. It’s hard but…

    Do you ever feel like an outsider?

    Salma: I think you have be very convinced of what you’re believing in. If you’re just living your faith for the sake of it and you don’t really believe in it, you’re just doing it because you have to, it’s not going to be a very successful attempt to assimilate into a culture. If you are very strong in your convictions and you understand why you don’t do it, you can explain it to them. Most people don’t bother you too much about it. A lot of times you can have a normal social life, you know, going to the movies and stuff.

    You must hear people talking about boys and going out…

    Ayeesha: Of course but I’m very used to it now. But I tell my friends look this is part of my culture, I can’t be with you at this time because you’re going to be drinking or doing drugs and it’s against my religion. Most friends try and understand my religion but others are just like oh that’s so weird, how could you not have a boyfriend’. They say all these things to make you feel bad about yourself but then I realise these aren’t friends.

    Are you ever tempted?

    Ayeesha: Of course. It’s just the way your hormones work. You can’t really do anything about it. Sometimes I get pressured but my true friends know it’s wrong for me. They’ll do it themselves. Everyone does it and I’m used to it. But I want to stick to what I believe.

    Your parents must have done a great job to keep you on track

    Ayeesha: I grew up very religious and I competed in Koranic readings. All the centres have competitions for the best readers. I just flew up to the nationals in Auckland. I always enter them. I love doing things like that. It keeps me on track. I got 3rd nationally.

    What do you think of kiwi chicks who wear tight jeans and short skirts?

    Ayeesha: I’m fine with it. This is their culture. I just do my thing. I’m not against anyone. Deep inside I know it’s wrong for me. You can’t change someone.

    Do you know what it’s like to be a Muslim woman in Afghanistan and what’s the difference?

    Salma: Most people don’t realise that what you see with regards to Muslim women over there is related to the culture of being an Afghani. It’s a lot more restrictive for them. Ayeesha and I really don’t feel as restricted as people’s impression that we are. We live slightly different lives in that we can’t do some things but we can do other things. But it doesn’t make this huge impact on our lives that most people would believe.

    This article was originally written for and published in the October 2006 issue of JET magazine. It is reproduced here with their kind permission.

    My PYF experience: a reflection

    Monday, October 30th, 2006

    TeRito Peyroux

    TeRito, Jacob and Rosie
    In March of this year, before even sending an application to be part of the New Zealand delegation attending the inaugural Pacific Youth Festival (PYF) in Tahiti, I was already excited. I suppose it was almost as if I knew that my going would be a liberating home-coming of sorts, to a place in Polynesia which (like Rotuma, Rarotonga and Aitutaki) is a significant part of both my family heritage and cultural identity “Liberating” in the sense that I would be returning to Tahiti without the comfort and security of my parents or ma’piga on hand, should I want it.

    So with my own cultural identity being at the root of initial thoughts and feelings from the very beginning, it was quite natural (after finding out that I had actually been accepted to go and would therefore need to look for funds) that my attitude, learning and overall experience of the PYF were strongly influenced by things pertaining to cultural identity. My cultural identity–as a multiethnic, urban New Zealand born and raised, Methodist young woman, in 2006.
    For sure, the PYF provided a myriad of conferences and workshops ranging from health and education right through to governance and sustainable development, which were designed to be all very relevant to the 1000 or so youth participants in attendance. There was even a representational group that met devotedly every evening to help piece together a Pacific Youth Charter, on the PYF’s behalf.

    Of course, no Pacific gathering would be complete without the flamboyance, richness and celebration of cultural dance, songs, stories and friendships, and in a land so well versed in creative Maohi performance and hospitality, Tahiti was certainly no exception. This was superbly complemented by the nation’s annual Heiva festivities as well.

    I suppose I could also dedicate a paragraph of my reflection to the political woes of French Polynesia and other Pacific Island nations that were shared from the perspectives of those whose portrayals when shared in the media aren’t usually very comprehensive (if they’re shared at all). However, due to my fear of digressing, with regard to politics, I’ll stop right here.
    Still bearing all of the above in mind, the main highlight for me is something that even up until now I pleasantly continue to unwrap. From this PYF experience, my highlight came in the realisation that regardless of things measurable, predictable or linear, my sense of belonging and cultural identity is something that I journey toward discovering, understanding and accepting for myself, and thus I need not anyone else to demarcate for me.

    Regardless of whether I’m a son or a daughter; whether I’m a first, last or even only child; whether or not I can fluently speak my mother/father/or ma’piga tongue for that matter; whether I’m half, quarter or an eighth of an ethnicity, whether I can sing hymns or chant ri jaujau; regardless even of my religion or whether my theology is orthodox, liberation or otherwise influenced …by birth and by upbringing, I am a part of all of these types of variables and they are all a part of me.

    Thus in relation to my ethnic identity for instance, despite the arithmetic and despite any explanations or justifications, I am Rotuman. I am Tahitian. I am French. I am Scottish. I am a Cook Islander. I am a New Zealander. I belong and have just as much of a right and responsibility to each of these different groups as anyone else whose journey through understanding their own sense of identity and belonging leads them to these places also.
    And so, with very cherished experiences in heart, a host of stirred understandings in head, heaps of awe-inspiring new friends on hand, and a nurtured spirit in tact, I certainly look forward to the next Pacific Youth Festival which is expected to be held in Fiji.

    eating taro ice-cream with friends
    TeRito attended the Pacific Youth Festival as part of the Just Focus contingent. This reflection was originally shared in the NZ Rotuman Association Quarterly and also put up on the Rotuma Website.

    The PYF: Pākehā reflections on a Pacific gathering

    Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

    Lyndon Burford
    welcome to tahitiThe inaugural Pacific Youth Festival was a phenomenal gathering. Held in Tahiti from the 17th to 22 July 2006, it was a veritable showcase of cultural diversity, exchange, and open-minded enquiry. It was a vehicle for celebration, learning and sharing, and as ever with new learning, there was the challenge of stepping out of old comfort zones and seeing the world in a new light.
    The Festival was a week of song, dance, cultural exchange, and also a week of politics. A thousand young people from 25 countries across the Pacific (plus France!), ranging in age from 16 to 30, came together in Tahiti to discuss 4 themes of key importance to the Pacific Region; Equitable Globalisation, Conditions for Peace, and Cultural Diversity. The goal of the festival was to create a Pacific Youth Charter, a guiding document to establish a set of common hopes, values, and goals for Pacific Youth. For myself personally, the Pacific Youth Festival was a chance to reflect on my own culture and identity, and to think about my place both in the Pacific and in Aotearoa.

    After a day acclimatising (and yes, checking out the warm Pacific waters!) the Pacific Youth Festival began in earnest. The Festival was structured around small group (20-50 people!) workshops and conferences’ (presented by panels of guest speakers) which ran from 8.30 till 5.30 every day. There was cultural performance every evening, in which we were treated to the great richness of the Pacific’s cultural heritage. There were performance groups from as far abroad as Belau (Palau) and the North Marianas in the West, and Rapanui (Easter Island) in the East. Each had its own unique rhythms and styles, and each brought spirit and character to the Festival. All in all, the days were packed full of learning, laughter, song, and dialogue.
    discussion in workshop
    Peace and Non-violent Conflict Resolution Workshop
    NZ’s professional contribution to the Festival was a workshop on “Peace and Non-violent Conflict Resolution”. This was created and presented by Annie Boanas of the Peace Foundation Wellington, with assistance from Eva Lawrence of the Global Education Centre in Wellington, and from myself. The workshop was run in three phases. The first phase encouraged people to consider what peace meant to them personally. Following this, we proposed a definition of peace as more than just the absence of violence, suggesting that it is the result of a positive, non-violent effort towards the building of a culture of peace. This requires dialogue at all levels, in order to deal with the root causes of conflict. The second section of the workshop gave participants time to consider specific issues related to Peace, through discussion of questions such as:

    • What threatens peace in the Pacific?
    • What do you think your culture has particularly to offer to help create peace?
    • How can people build peaceful relationships at a personal level?

    Finally, participants were invited to share a peace “success story”: a personal story, or one that inspired them, in which peace was created through the application of non-violent means of conflict resolution. At the end of the workshop, attendees were offered a “Take Action” worksheet, detailing specific personal action that can be taken in their own communities to help develop a culture of peace (this was developed a few years ago by several young peaceworkers involved with the Disarmament and Security Centre in Christchurch). After a heartfelt hour of sharing, the young delegates left with a sense of hope and inspiration, along with concrete examples of people working for peace, and peace working.

    Politics in Tahiti - and at the Festival
    Politics also played a large part in the week’s proceedings, however. From the opening ceremony, we were exposed to a political battle that had been raging since long before we arrived — between the pro-French civil authorities and the pro-independence government of French Polynesia.
    oscar temaru
    In his welcome address to the assembled Pacific Youth, the pro-independence President Oscar Temaru invited delegates to redress the injustice of the festival’s agenda that completely ignored the subjects of and independence. This challenge was taken up by two young NZ delegates, Charmaine Clark and Omar Hamed, who ran an excellent workshop on Decolonisation with Justice” at the end of the week. This was attended by delegates, media, MPs, independence advocates, as well as by the small French delegation, who had their own assumptions about the place of France in the Pacific challenged over the course of the festival. (They were growled at by the French authorities for their active in the workshop). In closing his welcome speech, Temaru stated that it was forbidden to speak the indigenous Maohi language in the French Polynesian parliament, which, although not true, does reveal a legitimate grievance of the indigenous people, in that the Maohi language is not an official language of parliament or state. Temaru’s confrontational stance at the opening ceremony saw the French Government’s representative walk out in protest, and reply with an equally confrontational outburst in the media the following day. Such was the political atmosphere in which the week unrolled.

    The Politics of the Pacific Youth Charter

    This political struggle also played out among the youth themselves. Each day, a Charter Drafting Committee, consisting of one member from each delegation, met to draft resolutions regarding the issues discussed that day. To the surprise of all, a young French delegate joined the Committee, taking an active role at the right hand of the Tahitian delegate, who had unilaterally declared himself Chair of the Committee. This was symptomatic of a lack of that was a constant frustration at the Festival; a young Frenchman was invited by the local French authorities to negotiate and vote on a Pacific Youth Charter, without any discussion of the matter with other Pacific delegates.
    houses in tahiti
    The issue came to a head in the middle of the week, when President Temaru invited the Charter Drafting Committee to an evening reception. In a vote split 11-10, the French representative held the crucial deciding vote that saw the young delegates refuse this invitation from a head of state. At this point, several delegates, including the NZ’s delegate, left the meeting to attend the reception. They pointed out, quite rightly, that it was inappropriate to snub an invitation from a head of state, particularly as the Committee had accepted an invitation from the French High Commissioner the night before. The following day, the Committee voted overwhelmingly to remove France’s right to vote on the Charter committee. Nevertheless, resolutions proposed by the NZ delegation relating to nuclear disarmament somehow fell off’ the agenda, and were entirely absent in the final draft Charter. The fallout of French nuclear testing in the Pacific still affects the region today.

    A new perspective: Aotearoa in the Pacific
    There was valuable learning for many Kiwis in observing the process of drafting the Pacific Youth Charter. As Kiwis, we are used to thinking of NZ as a small state, while Pacific Islanders in dialogue with us see themselves as the small state, and Aotearoa as large state or regional power’. The new perspective gained in the Charter process offered us insight into Aotearoa’s role/place in the Pacific Community. This influential role brings with it responsibility; to exercise our power wisely, in the interest of the wider Pacific Community, not simply to pursue our own self-interest.

    Thinking regionally
    A Pacific Youth Charter sometimes required that we put aside our own interests, and put on our regional thinking cap - human rights issues are a good example. Currently, Fiji, Australia, and NZ are the only Pacific countries that have Commissions. However, for many countries in the Pacific, recognition of the even the most basic human rights remains an urgent priority. Sometimes, it was frustrating to see relatively watered down’ concepts making their way into the final document, but for other countries, the mere mention of universal Human Rights in an official document is a great leap forward.

    Cultural awakenings
    International considerations aside, what are my lasting personal impressions of the Pacific Youth Festival? In a sense, I had a wake up call reminiscent of that of many Pākehā who were involved in the 1981 Springbok tour protests. Having been confronted with persisting French colonial influences in Tahiti, I have been forced to consider, as a Pākehā , my place in Aotearoa-NZ. Through dialogue with the Māori members of our delegation, I was also confronted with the reflection that my own land is not as peaceful as I had chosen to believe.
    The current political debate around the removal from NZ legislation of references to the Principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in NZ is a good example. Pākehā seem uncertain as to what they believe the Principles are and what they mean in legal terms. But rather than engage in a genuine contemplation of the Principles, Winston Peters has proposed simply removing all reference to them, thus erasing from NZ law most references to our founding document. This threatens to further provoke already disillusioned Māori, who quiet rightfully would see such a move as de-valuing the historical document through which they agreed to Pākehā settlement in Aotearoa. As one Māori member of our delegation noted, where Māori are looking to Pākehā to support a just and fair society, the deletion of the only legally binding mentions of the Treaty in NZ law does not set a good example.
    cultural performance
    I’m a Pakeha New Zealander. What is that?
    As we proposed in our Peace and Conflict Resolution workshop, peace requires constant nurturing through open and honest dialogue. So finally, I am left with this question: what do I bring to an intercultural dialogue with the Tangata Whenua of this land?
    What do I know about the Treaty of Waitangi that afforded my ancestors entry to Aotearoa-NZ? More even than that, what do I know about my ancestors? Having been presented with the wealth of Pacific culture, of which Māori culture is a rich and unique part, I have been faced with a slightly unsettling question, in so far as the answer is not immediately clear: what is my culture? What is the richness of Pakeha culture? This is both the challenge and the reward of the Pacific Youth Festival for me; to take the time for some genuine reflection on who I am, where I come from, and what it means for me to be a Pākehā in a Pacific land. And in this challenge there is a new sense of hope. For in rediscovering my own history, I may be able to play a small part in healing the history of this land.

    Many thanks to the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust, the Disarmament and Security Centre, and the Quakers Peace and Service Trust, who helped fund this fabulous learning experience.


    Peace Movement Aotearoa
    The Disarmament and Security Centre
    The Peace Foundation
    Global Bits magazine, Who are You? The Search for Self in the Global Village


    • Read the guide What We Can Do For Peace, put together by Youth at the Disarmament and Security Centre, Otautahi, Christchurch, NZ

    Photos all by Lyndon Burford.

    A festival “PACIFICALLY” for youth

    Thursday, September 21st, 2006

    Corinna Howland

    corinna howlandTahiti. Sun, sand and… socio-political activism? This may not be the most likely combination, but for over 1000 youth from around the Pacific region, it seemed to do the trick. The inaugural Pacific Youth Festival held on the island of Pape’ete between the 17th and the 22nd of July, was a unique and thought-provoking experience for its participants. Over the five day period, we attended a number of conferences, workshops and seminars centred around the four festival pillars — namely fair globalisation, sustainable development, cultural diversity and conditions of peace. These ranged from the basic (what are human rights ?’) to the complex and challenging (”Recognition, Preservation and Protection of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property “), and provided a rare forum for youth from different countries and cultures to discuss issues concerning the Pacific Region.

    But there’s more to the Pacific Youth Festival than a bunch of people sitting around talking about/lamenting the state of the world. The primary objective of the festival was to produce the Pacific Youth Charter’ — a document outlining issues that need addressing within the region and providing guidelines for improvement. This was collated by a representative, or Junior Delegate’, from each of the countries that attended. Charmaine Clark, a researcher and youth worker in Gisborne, was selected to represent the views of the youth of New Zealand. This appeared to be a mammoth undertaking, incorporating an extra two hours plus of work once the sessions had finished for the day, not to mention trying to communicate with Junior Delegates who spoke only French or Spanish (although translators were on hand).
    dancers at pacific youth festival
    Outside of the conferences and workshops, much time was spent forging connections with other people at the festival. Many felt that this was perhaps the most important aspect of PYF, as this resulted in a truly moving sense of unity and brotherhood amongst the participants. Although communication was sometimes stilted due to the wide variety of languages spoken, the heart was definitely there. The schedule also involved a reception and dance party(!) at the Tahitian Parliament, a recreational day trip to nearby Mo’orea and various cultural exhibitions in the evenings. A particular highlight for me was the spectacular array of scarcely-clad male dancers, and the ukulele which played constantly throughout the festival. Interacting with the locals was another memorable experience — a chance to practice our limited French and Tahitian, and to understand what was important to people and how issues concerning the Pacific were affecting them on a personal level.
    party at pacific youth festival
    For me, the Pacific Youth Festival not only provided an appreciation of the Pacific, but an awareness of what I take for granted in New Zealand. In one workshop, the person hosting the conference asked what method of distributing information to youth in the Pacific would be most effective. I replied that I thought newspapers would be best, as youth magazines were well-received in New Zealand. Following this, a man from Papua New Guinea put up his hand and said that that would not work in his country, as only half of the population can read. Maybe this is my ignorance, but it was in part a realisation of how little we are taught about the region that New Zealand belongs to. We tend to look beyond the Pacific to America, Britain and the other world powers, when it would perhaps benefit us to be more introspective. So, don’t ignore your neighbours — take the time to find out about the Pacific, and join us at the 2009 Pacific Youth Festival in Fiji!


    Going Global — A NZ Guide to International Youth Opportunities - Takes you through all the stages of hunting out, applying for and going to an international opportunity, as well as how to make the most of your experience when you get back home.

    Secretariat of the Pacific (SPC) — a Non Government Organisation based in Fiji and New Caledonia which has heaps of info about Pacific issues, plus links to other sites.

    Wikipedia — for general information on the countries and territories in the Pacific
    pyf sign


    • Encourage your local school to teach students more about the Pacific and Moriori people.
    • Write articles to newspapers and magazines about Pacific Issues.
    • Make changes to led a more sustainable life (recycling is a good way to start) and encourage others to do the same.
    • Get involved with an organisation or group working on Pacific Issues (like Just Focus!)
      Encourage an end to stereotypes and racism (not all Pacific Islanders wear grass skirts and live off coconuts…)

    This article was first published in Jet magazine in the Focus column.

    Photos by Geoff Cooper.

    PYF: A trip to Tahiti, but what else would it be?

    Monday, August 14th, 2006

    Nicole Mathewson

    tahitian girl dancersI boarded the tiny plane in Westport on July 14, nervous and unprepared. I hadn’t even read half of the information we’d been sent. I was excited to finally get a chance to go overseas, but by this stage I had convinced myself it was going to be terrible. They wouldn’t feed me enough (I like food), the people would be super brainy and super snobbish (how could a little West Coast girl ever compete?), not to mention old (I’m only 18 and the people going were aged from 16-30), and I’d get lost (the amount of youth going to the festival was more than the population of my entire town)!

    Then as I munched the delicious chocolate chip airplane cookie I suddenly changed my mind (I’m funny like that). The Pacific Youth Festival will be great, I told myself.

    And you know what? It was.

    nicole and lyndon's presentationI was immediately welcomed by the 16 other New Zealanders at our one-day workshop in Auckland on the 15th (they weren’t mean after all). And I soon realised I was the only one who was feeling nervous and ill-prepared. And I was one of the youngest people there, but it never became an issue. We all came from different backgrounds, and different parts of the country, but here we were all equal.

    We boarded the plane to Tahiti the next day and I discovered something better than airplane cookies - airplane socks!

    Up to 1000 youth from around the Pacific (plus three from a youth organisation in France - yes France at a PACIFIC festival, proving how much control they still have in the country) were present for the six day festival. Our goal was to create the first Pacific Charter (a task that proved even more difficult than first imagined).

    Our first day was spent exploring Pape’ete, the capital of French Polynesia, and then we got straight into it on Monday morning with the opening ceremony. The most inspiring part of that for me wasn’t in any of the speeches, but was seeing New Caledonia’s refusal to march under the French flag. It was something that became the big topic of the festival, even though originally the organisers tried hard to avoid the topic altogether - decolonisation (which, put very briefly, is the process in which a colony gains independence from a colonial power).
    new caledonian sign at PYF
    We attended conferences, workshops, and seminars focusing on the different themes of the festival including good governance, peace, education, cultural diversity, health, active citizenship, globalisation, equality, and sustainable development. We also watched cultural performances, had dinner and a dance at the Parliament, spent a recreational day on the island of Mo’orea, and sang - a lot!

    Unfortunately, New Zealand wasn’t able to perform a cultural presentation. A lack of time to practise (and the fact we hadn’t met before the trip, let alone performed together) , a lack of indigenous people in the delegation (decreasing the authenticity of the performance), and the debate over what we would perform (Maori or Moriori - and what particular songs or dances) were to blame. The lack of performance is something I hope is rectified in time for the next Pacific Youth Festival in Fiji in 2009.

    A variety of culture was everywhere. On the stage, in the fashion, in conversation. And learning about it all was incredible: seeing Samoan men in skirts (and looking good in them), learning about the history of islands like Rapanui (Easter Island), Marshall and Norfolk from the people who lived there, hearing Tongan men praising the attractiveness of bigger-sized women over stick-thin figures (image conscious people take note!), and practising Tahitian songs.
    pacific couple
    Language barriers were daunting at first, but we soon found there were other ways to communicate than just talking. Though we did do a lot of talking - and I think that’s where people learned the most, in general conversation at the meal table (where the food wasn’t all that bad), or outside our accommodation with a guitar or ukelele or some kind of instrument in hand.

    A clear highlight for many (myself included) was the “Decolonisation with Justice” workshop organised by two Kiwis on the last day. It was a chance to finally talk about the effects of colonisation in our respective countries, something that many people hadn’t been allowed to talk about before. Colonisation had affected practically every Pacific Island nation, including New Zealand (the European and Māori conflict anyone?). The importance of keeping native languages and cultures alive and in practise featured heavily in many workshops along with the problems islanders faced in achieving that because of colonisation. Even in our host country, French Polynesia, the Maohi (native Tahitians), grew up unable to speak their own language because of the disapproval from the occupying French. The same thing happened to the Māori in New Zealand when the English arrived, showing that New Zealand faced many of the same issues as other Pacific Island nations and our place at the festival was certainly justified.

    NZ delegationAnother highlight was meeting three Moriori youth from New Zealand. I never learned anything about the Moriori people at school. All I knew was something about “the Moriori being eaten by the Māori”… It was interesting learning about how the Moriori were still very much alive and the efforts being made to resurrect their language and culture. Their fight to rectify the shame people felt in being identified as Moriori (even more than Māori, Moriori people in the past were looked down upon and forced to hide or forget their culture) was incredibly inspiring.

    While being saturated in culture during the festival was amazing and inspiring, it also became a kind of lowlight as it made me start to ask myself “what is my culture?” As a New Zealand European/Pakeha I felt out of place at the festival without a culture of my own that I could share, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one from Australasia who felt that way.

    Even though I didn’t understand everything that was going on, I felt comfortable there. By the end of the festival I didn’t want to leave. I learned more in one week about culture, respect and love than I did in all my years at primary and secondary school. The Pacific Youth Festival wasn’t just a trip to Tahiti, it was also an experience I’ll never forget.



    • Encourage your local school to teach students more about the Pacific and Moriori people.
    • Write articles to newspapers and magazines about Pacific Issues.
    • Make changes to led a more sustainable life (recycling is a good way to start) and encourage others to do the same.
    • Get involved with an organisation or group working on Pacific Issues (like Just Focus!)
    • Encourage an end to stereotypes and racism (not all Pacific Islanders wear grass skirts and live off coconuts…)

    Photos by the Aotearoa NZ delegation, including: Annie Boanas, Elise Broadbent and Lyndon Burford.

    sunset over mo'orea