Monday, June 24, 2024

Dreams are different when you sleep on the floor

Daryn* is 10 and sleeps on a damp piece of foam under threadbare blankets in an often freezing sleepout behind his parents’ home with his two younger brothers aged six and five.

He knows that his mum and dad are desperately struggling with money this year, which is why the family often goes without adequate food and heating. Daryn tries not to complain about the cold, because he doesn’t want to upset his parents even more. But when he closes his eyes at night, Daryn dreams about warm beds with “Batman duvets for my brothers,” who have both been hospitalised for asthma and bronchitis, and need them more than him.

Daryn says he is tough, and he reckons it’s his job to look after his little brothers. When he’s big, he’s going to build them a flash house with a bedroom each. One day.

At the other end of the country, Niall* is seven and lives in Auckland with his mum and siblings. He wants desperately to play soccer for his school, but after paying for rent, bills and food, his mother has nothing left for any extras. Niall is teased relentlessly at school about his old, ill-fitting uniform and lack of shoes. He loves his mum and hates the bills that make her cry.

Paula* (6) and Marama* (5) live with their dad at weekends and have no beds of their own. If they are lucky, they sleep on the couch in the lounge or on a pile of washing in a corner. Their six-month old half-sister sleeps in a makeshift cot in a damp and cold bedroom, and has already had meningitis.

Paula, Marama, Niall and Daryn are just four of more than 1800 children around New Zealand waiting for Variety Kiwi Kid sponsors to make their lives easier and enable them to thrive like their friends and schoolmates. Once matched with a sponsor, they will join more than 7000 young New Zealanders being cared for and supported by around 4000 caring Variety Kiwi sponsors across the country.

Variety chief executive Susan Glasgow is worried, though. With families moving from emergency housing back into houses damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle, along with 2023’s cost of living increases, she is expecting an explosion in the number of children needing the basics across the nation.

“We have seen a 197% increase in applications for Kiwi Kid sponsorship in the past year. There are a lot of people who simply don’t believe that New Zealand has children living in deprivation, but I can assure you we do – Daryn, Tiana, Marama and Niall are real children, and there are nearly 2000 more waiting on our books,” she says. “Parents who have never had to ask for help before are coming to Variety out of desperation. These parents are putting their children’s needs ahead of their pride and are asking for our help.”

Variety sponsors pay $50 a month for their sponsored child or young person to provide school costs, uniforms, sports and music fees, beds and warm bedding, clothing, therapy, and school stationery including digital devices for study.

“Some of these children have been waiting more than six months for a sponsor, and desperately need help now,” Glasgow says.

In South Auckland, Sione is so proud of his four children that his eyes fill with tears when he talks about them. “All

I want is for my children to grow up happy and healthy,” he says. “And I want to see them do it.”

It’s been six years since 37-year-old Sione had two mitral valves replaced in his heart, after the rheumatic fever he suffered as a 14-year-old wasn’t diagnosed in time to stop serious heart damage, resulting in trauma to his aortic valve. Since then, he hasn’t been able to work and his partner Elsie has had to give up her job to nurse him and look after their children aged from four to 14.

“I was very embarrassed and angry at the start, because I didn’t want to be a burden,” Sione says. “I am the dad and I wanted to support my family, but we are now on sickness benefits and things have been tough for us.”

Through Variety, three of Sione’s children are now sponsored, and the charity has provided funding for new beds, a Chromebook and clothing. “It has felt so empowering to be able to provide, despite the change in our financial circumstances,”

Sione says. “My kids are ‘A’ students who love sports. It helps them to socialise and participate, and be involved with the community. It all just couldn’t be possible without the help of Variety and the sponsors, who are our angels.”

*Names have been changed to protect children’s privacy.

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