Waikato students help communities in lockdown

22 May 2020

With people around the country coming to grips with the Covid-19 lockdown, two University of Waikato students got busy supporting their communities.

Ex-Navy chef cooks up a storm for uni flatmates during lockdown

While many might have dreamed about sharing their lockdown bubble with a personal chef, a group of University of Waikato students was living that dream in Tauranga.

When the University suspended accommodation charges for students who chose to go home during lockdown, several residents at the University-managed Mayfair Court Apartments in Tauranga opted to leave. For those who stayed, there were other perks.

Business student Ayesha Saeed, social work student Laura Norton, and environmental science student Logan Hill struck gold with their lockdown flatmate in teaching student and former Navy chef Matthew Shepherd.

The situation went down well, says Ayesha. “Matt’s cooking is absolutely amazing, and we are always looking forward to the days where we do flat dinners and Matt cooks.”

To celebrate New Zealand entering Alert Level 2, Matt cooked up a feast for 15 students with ingredients donated by Associate Professor Ken Perszyk, Acting Director of the Tauranga campus. And there were plenty of people on-hand to do the dishes.

Connecting the Tauranga community through Facebook 

Early on in lockdown, second-year Bachelor of Education student Courtney Bignell, alongside a few of her friends, realised there was an opportunity to help the Tauranga community to connect and support each other during self isolation.

Within six weeks, her Self Isolation Support - Tauranga Facebook group had more than 1,800 members.

"I knew that there would be people needing help during this time and thought ‘why not set up something that allows people to ask for help as well as volunteer to help if they can’?" says Courtney.

In the beginning, the most common requests came from people needing help with their groceries. Many members, especially those who live alone, just wanted someone to talk to. Now, members are sharing details of how to navigate the different levels relating to Covid-19, and different ways to help support local businesses.

Rangatahi-led initiative supports students with their online studies 

The newly formed Māori student association Te Kāuru - Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao, used Zoom and digital platforms to keep students connected and motivated while moving through the different alert levels.

Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies Masters student Luke Moss (Ngāti Maniapoto) says the team wanted to create a community for students and run weekly events that everyone could participate in.

"We had a weekly Wednesday wero to piki wairua that allowed rangatahi to escape their bubble virtually. Another popular event was a kaupapa called 'The Grind' where we hosted daily wānanga from 10am to 12pm Monday to Friday."

For Rangipare Belshaw-Ngaropo (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Rarawa) and the Te Kāuru team this initiative wasn’t just about connecting students, there was also a focus on how they could provide financial relief for those students in need.

"When we were put into Level 4, some of the students were unable to pay for their bills and those sorts of things. Therefore, we (Te Kāuru) decided to give food vouchers and those sorts of essential things to keep them afloat,” says Rangipare.

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