The final several weeks of the program went by surprisingly fast and we find ourselves looking back at it wondering where the time has gone. After Rotorua, the students busied themselves with end-of-the-semester academics including completing their independent research projects (see selected abstracts under the tabs above). A huge highlight was our final Presentation of Learning (POL) put on by the students to the larger Whanganui community. We
invited homestay hosts, internship coordinators, and other “friends of the program” to a presentation at the Quaker Settlement and were amazed when almost 100 people showed up! The Quiet Room was packed and the students did a marvelous job sharing what they have learned and will take away from their New Zealand experience revolving around four central themes: sense and sustainability, wild and sustainability, community and sustainability, and labor and
sustainability. It was such a meaningful and emotion-filled gathering with real appreciation displayed from both Americans and Kiwi’s alike. We all came away realizing how special our bond was with the city and its residents and that out of difficult times the strongest ties can be forged.
Following our departure from Whanganui, we headed over to Castlepoint– a sheep station and beach holiday location north of Wellington to
meet up with Anders and Emily Crofoot– friends of Marie Nicholson (Earlham). With a gorgeous backdrop of the wild and rocky coastline of Castlepoint, we completed a dune restoration service project (planting pingao and spinifex) and took a tour of the Castlepoint sheep station– one of the largest on the North Island. Anders and Emily were a wealth of information about the state of agri-business in New Zealand and it opened our eyes to the
realities of working the land in this
country and the struggles with doing so in a sustainable manner given governmental policies and regulations. We hope to return with future groups!
Our last days were spent on a sea-kayaking expedition in the Marlborough Sounds where we coped with gale force winds and rain for three straight days (no kayaking on those days!). Nevertheless, we managed a couple good days out and all of us
appreciated the beauty and
contemplative activity of life in the outer Sounds.
We returned to Christchurch tired and full-up from our New Zealand semester but with two days left to go. Many of us were ready to be “done” but rallied and performed one final day of service in Christchurch helping clean up affected areas from the Feb. 22 earthquake. Students shoveled liquefaction, helped work in the Lyttleton Community Garden, and at the Delta Trust– all areas tremendously impacted by the earthquake. It was a long hard day, but for those who helped, it was a tremendous way to give back to the community of Christchurch and to realize the privileges of our semester in this country. That long and emotional day was capped off with one last rendition of the students’ Presentation of Learning, this time for our South Island audience.
As I write this, it is a quiet, sunny day here in Sumner. I can hear the ocean waves crashing into the shore several blocks away. Two and a half months after the February quake Christchurch and the surrounding communities continue to endure daily aftershocks, some days one or two, other days up to
20. Even though utilities are almost completely restored, the sewer system is stressed so
you’ll find portaloo’s on every block (for #2’s!) and raw sewage being dumped directly into the estuary and ocean. It is strange to be surrounded by popular surfing beaches and see no one in the water. As I look out and see a few buildings and houses that are in varying states of collapse (as well as many that seem undamaged), I think about what those waves have seen over thousands, perhaps millions of years. When viewed from that perspective, this brief but traumatic period of time seems quite inconsequential. But nonetheless, for all the people affected by the events of Feb 22nd, it was anything but. Nature has a tremendous power to put things in perspective. It can make us feel quite small and insignificant. But, it can also bring a new appreciation of the humble-ness of the human endeavor and of the importance of the relational ties that bind us together. While I cannot say I am glad we experienced what we did, I can say that we learned much from the events and their aftermath– about ourselves, about community, and about this dynamic earth that we call home.
Speaking of which, it is time to sign off and turn our thoughts and attention to home ourselves. Thanks to everyone who supported us on this wild ride. Haere ra (farewell) for now.