Final Weeks

Kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds

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

Presentation of Learning in the Quiet Room

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

Final group photo at the Quaker Settlement w. friends

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

Speaking with Anders and Emily Crofoot at Castlepoint Station

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

Looking out toward the Cook Straight and the North Island

realities of working the land in this

Final celebration dinner at Resolution Bay cabins, Marlborough Sounds

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

Cold and windy in the Marlborough Sounds

appreciated the beauty and

Service project at Castlepoint re-planting the dunes

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

Toodeloo from the port-a-loo!

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.

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Rotorua Water Quality Symposium 2011

Last week we all piled in the vans and headed up to Rotorua for the Lakes Water Quality Symposium. It was an opportunity to hear from scientists, farmers, conservationists, foresters, and citizens as to the challenges and opportunities of cleaning up the water in the lakes around Rotorua. We sat through two full days of talks from an amazing array of folks including a keynote from a Swedish mayor of “the greenest city in Europe,” the New

Students with mayor of greenest city in Europe, Bo Frank

Zealand Minister of the Environment, and several top-notch scientists. The symposium was wonderfully organized and gave all of us a chance to really experience the “multi-perspective” thinking that we talk so much about in environmental studies. Here, we had farmers talking to foresters talking to geologists talking to eco-tourists, talking to conservationists, talking to developers. It was quite fascinating to observe from an “outsiders” perspective.

Hot Pools!

After the symposium, John and Anne (two of the organizers) offered to take us on a little Saturday excursion. They had heard about our story (Christchurch earthquake refugees and all) and

wanted to offer something a little special for our students to thank them for coming to the symposium. Well, it was some thank you! We arrived at a small dock on Lake Rotoiti and proceeded to board three boats on a picture perfect blue sky day. We traveled across the

The group with Symposium organizers and volunteers

lake, learning about their Nitrogen “wall” in the process that was built to divert Nitrogen from entering the lake. We finally docked at a lovely looking little bay where, to our amazement, there sat three thermal pools just above the lake shore. For the next 3 hours we relaxed in the pools, jumped in the refreshingly cold lake, and repeated it all over again. John, Anne, and other volunteers provided a lovely BBQ too- we were in heaven! What a great way to end a trip!

Jay smelling the sulphur!

On the way home from Rotorua, we stopped by a more popular thermal area just to see what all the fuss was about. Seeing the volcanism that lies so close to the surface here is a reminder that we indeed sit on the “ring of fire” that has been causing this part of the world (Japan included) such heartache these last several months.

We are nearing the end of our time in Whanganui and it is bittersweet. We are beginning to get excited about returning home but we also realize what great connections we have made in our time here. Home stretch now!

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Eeling with Ned

Fall is rapidly advancing here in Whanganui. The exotic trees (the one’s we are familiar with in the mid west like the buckeye and the elm) are beginning to change color and lose their leaves and the air in the morning and evening is crisp. It is a strange feeling to be heading into Easter with the seasonal calendar completely reversed!

Dora, eel fishing on the Whanganui

“Plan B” continues to move along and things are settling in nicely here in Whanganui with several recent highlights. One was an overnight campout “up river” with Ned Tapa. Ned is a local from Whanganui who kindly offered to take us eel fishing on the river using traditional Maori techniques. First you find the worms in the forest (big ones!), then you string them on to a string made from native flax. You tie the whole shebang to a large stick in a loop and then you dip it into the water around last light of the day. I have to say, I think we were all a little dubious as to the set-up.

One of the worms to be used for bait-- gigantic!

Apparently, the eel comes along, bites the worm on the flax string and, because of its teeth being oriented down toward its throat, it cannot easily let go. Once you feel the eel on your stick, you gently lift it up out of the water and voila! Several of us gave it a shot with no luck until Ned came along and gave it a try. After only a few minutes he rather nonchalantly declared “got one” and lifted his stick out of the water. Out of the water emerged the largest eel any of us had ever seen. Ned flung the eel onto the steeply sloped sand bank and chaos ensued. Melina, one of our students, was nearest to the eel and in a valiant effort quite literally dove on top of the eel. The eel proved a worthy adversary however and slithered out of her grasp and down the slope toward the water and freedom. Melina, not to be deterred, desperately lunged after it, falling half into the water. After some screaming and tossing around she emerged, sandy, soggy… and eel-less.

A long-finned eel in the hand!

After this, we doubled our effort and fairly soon had two more eels on our sticks and, this time, we successfully captured the “flung” creatures! All of us were enthralled by the power and beauty of these long-finned eels under the flashlight. To the Maori, these eels are very special– representing not just food, but the living spirit of the river itself. Fittingly, Ned asked that we release all the eels we caught and we happily obliged. Over the next hour, we probably caught 10+ eels and shrieks of laughter and amazement rang through the forest as enjoyed an activity that has likely transpired on the Whanganui river for hundreds of years.

For more on these special creatures and their relationship with Maori in New Zealand, see this excellent article in Orion by James Prosek:

Tomorrow, we leave for Rotorua for a water symposium involving a multi-disciplinary look at how to improve water quality around lake Rotorua with an eye toward sustainable development for the area as a whole. Scheduled speakers include the mayor from one of the greenest towns in Sweden, the Environment Minister for the New Zealand government, and even a professor from The Ohio State University (joining via skype!).

Finally, we have also added pictures and descriptions of our students internships on the blog– you’ll find them on the tab labeled “internships” above.

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The Possibilities and Limitations of “Plan B”

We are now several weeks into what we are affectionately calling “Plan B” since the Feb. earthquake. Students are now in homestays here in Whanganui. They have also been successfully placed in internships that range from working in an eco-school, to a native bird rescue organization, and a “green bike” initiative. This is all thanks to the herculean effort by Marcie and Liz (with a huge amount of help from friend-of-the-program Mandy Brooke who lives here at the Settlement). While students were on “Spring Break” they worked tirelessly to get this all “sorted” as kiwi’s like to say.

We have made an arrangement to be hosted by the local polytechnic here in Whanganui (called UCOL) and they have been very generous and accommodating in helping us with classroom space and library usage. We have also made the local paper TWICE– one of them is linked here:

One of the highlights from these last 10 days was an opportunity for students to participate in a glass-blowing workshop in one of the local studios. Whanganui has become known in New Zealand for its glass blowing school and the work of the local artists. It was a great opportunity for all to engage in some “creative therapy” and we all wound up with a beautiful take-home “paperweight” that we made more or less ourselves!

We are also dealing with the differences in our “new normal” between here and Christchurch. We grieve over the missed opportunities from our intended curriculum but also celebrate the chances to find surprises and new learning from our current “emergent” curriculum. These are the possibilities and limitations of living through “Plan B.”

This weekend, we’ll go on an overnight camping trip “up-river” to learn more about Maori culture and also have a chance to just be together as a group again after quite a month. Until the next update…

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The New Normal

Laundry day!

New York Times columnist David Brookes recently wrote an opinion piece entitled “The New Normal” and that title has stuck with us here as we consider what the next steps are for us individually and for the program as a whole. We are living a “new normal” now– one that is at once calm and unsettling, safe and secure but uneasy, and grateful but also regretful. Today, we went around and simply took some pictures of our new normal at the Quaker Settlement to give a sense of what this week after has been like. The students have been working on a paper for Jay’s class, investigating travel options for break, and finding time to reflect, contacting friends and family. The downtime has been much appreciated we think.

Breakfast for champions!

Starting Saturday, students will be on “independent travel” for about eight days. We might call it “Spring Break” except it is not Spring here! There are the first whiffs of fall in the air– burning leaves, crisp evenings, and we know summer is just about over. While the students are on independent travel, we’ll be busy nailing down what we hope are the final details on their new homestays and internships here in Wanganui. The city has been so generous and welcoming of us (as well as the folks at the Settlement itself) and we have lots of leads for both. We have included here the same list we presented to the students of internships we have lined up or are in the process of lining up.

List of internship options on the board

We have also talked and decided on several fund-raising initiatives for Christchurch. Please see our “donate” button on the blog to see how you can help. New Zealanders of all kinds and walks of life have been donating. What they really need now is some additional international support as the costs of the rebuild continue to skyrocket. Please help if you can.

So, our new normal is OK. This is an experience none of us will ever forget and that is perhaps a blessing in a way. Only time will tell. For now, we are happy for some degree of “normal” and look forward to what lies ahead. One friend wrote us and included a wonderful poem by Wendell Berry that best describes how we feel now, here in the peace of the Settlement.

Getting work done in the Quiet Room

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Life...and laundry goes on!

Thank you Friends!

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10 Seconds That Changed Everything

Modified sign in Sumner after earthquake

Thank you to all who have sent well wishes and expressions of care and concern following the Christchurch earthquake. We are so grateful that all of our students and our program assistant, Liz Yoder, are safe and with no injuries to speak of. Our students displayed remarkable judgment during the event and we are very proud of them for their resilience and ability to deal with adversity. We are also grateful for the good work of Patty Lamson and Jen

Part of a cliff that fell away in Sumner

Lewis in IPO in communicating with parents for us and Peter and Nicole Blair and Bill Buskirk for working quickly to come up with contingency plans for us.

We have evacuated to the North Island and are now safely in Wanganui at the Quaker Settlement. The last 5 days have been surreal. We lived out of our apartment with three other students and our program assistant with no water or power. We used a nearby swimming pool for drinking water for a couple of

Boulders on our street! They came from the hillside up above

days until relief supplies arrived (I won’t go into what we did with our, ah, “waste”!) An entire cliffside collapsed right out our kitchen window and, sadly, there were two deaths from that event. Helicopters and planes buzzed overhead throughout the days and the apartment shook with aftershocks seemingly constantly. The kids took it as well as can be expected and we were grateful for the help of Air New Zealand in booking us a group flight out so fast. Some of us still feel “phantom” aftershocks even though we are no longer there.

Walking down street right after it happened to pick up our daughter at school

It is absolutely devastating to learn what has happened to “our” city. It feels like a second home for Marcie and me as we have spent so much time here over the last six years. The students also grew close to the city remarkably quickly through their homestays and internships. Sumner, the suburb where we live, is in very bad shape and still lacks water and electricity. Lyttleton, the small port community over the hill where two of our students interned was heavily damaged (it was the actual epicenter of the quake) and almost all the historic buildings will be condemned. The central business district of Christchurch is an absolute mess with many people still feared buried under rubble. The liquefaction in the eastern suburbs has rendered them almost unlivable and mass evacuations over the next few months are likely. It is so hard to see this happen given all that these folks have been through these last 5 months since the Sept. quake.

We are also reminded of the privilege we have to be able to have the resources to leave and that we have it much better off than many in this tragedy and we can only think of them and hold them in the Light during this difficult time. We feel guilty that we have left our friends in their time of need.

After consultation with many both in Christchurch and back at Earlham we have enacted our contingency plan which was to re-group back on the North Island in Wanganui at the Quaker Settlement. Patty was smart enough to ask us to work on that plan back in Sept. when the first quake struck. They have kindly opened their doors to us and welcomed us back and we are so grateful. The work in front of us is daunting: set up a new program here in Wanganui for the next two months including finding homestays, lecturers, and internships not to mention trying to get our family settled and the kids into new schools. But, we have a lot of support and it looks like we will be able to pull something off here.

We do plan to return to Christchurch at the end of April so students can pick up their things and fly out back to the States. In any event, we will all have to be quite flexible as we go to “plan B” in terms of curriculum and classes. One student remarked, “this is a chance to experiment with what education really is, isn’t it? This will probably be like the coolest educational experiment since, you know, John Dewey!” So, we have our light hearted moments as well.

We remain grateful for the little things: water, food, shelter and the warmth of human relationships. New Zealanders are practical, proud, and helpful folks and we have lost count of the number of times we have seen this displayed in the last week. Thank you again to all for your expressions of concern and for your prayers. This city will need a lot of love sent their way for a long time. We are working on where we would encourage people to send donations to the city and should have that up on our blog site before the end of the week.

In peace,

Jay and Marcie Roberts
2011 Program Leaders

p.s. one final note. Pay attention to those who preach “emergency preparedness.” It is amazing how important things like candles, water, food, battery powered radios, and a gassed up car become once a real emergency happens!

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Last Days at the Settlement and Kapiti Island

Final celebration dinner at the Quaker Settlement

We’ve just wrapped up our North Island unit and are transitioning into the rest of our time which will be based in Christchurch. Leaving the Quaker Settlement was tough as many of us made such great connections with the people there. The students put together an amazing final celebration meal for all the folks at the Settlement as well as for several of our guest speakers and other folks we interacted with during our North Island component. We sang several of our Maori songs we learned including “Waka ono” and “Te Whare” and enjoyed a final night of fellowship.

The following morning we headed down to Paraparaumu to get set up for our ferry ride over to Kapiti Island the next morning. Kapiti is an island conservation reserve that has been cleared of all pest species (mostly possum, rats, and stouts). The birdlife is fantastic and several students caught glimpses of kokako which is quite rare. Just about everyone was accosted by the kaka– a parrot that loves landing on your backpack and trying to work on your zippers to get a meal! We stayed the night at a lodge on the island and looked for kiwi’s in the rain. Most of us did not see any but we all heard them calling which was amazing.

Up close and personal with Kapiti island kaka

The following morning we had an interesting discussion on whether or not Kapiti island was “wild” and connected that to our class text The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner. Students worked through whether conservation strategies like the one at Kapiti were a sign of a better future or a sad reminder of how much we have lost. The query “what are we trying to sustain?” was one we all wrestled with.

Now its off to Christchurch by ferry and train after a few well deserved days off in Wellington. See you on the South Island!

Magical forest on Kapiti island

Kapiti island as seen from the beach at Paraparaumu

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