A Week of Remembrance and Respect for Others

This has been such an impactful and emotional week to be in New Zealand. It will be hard to forget the tears of our bus driver who informed us of the terror attack last Friday. He was shattered and, as we quickly learned, so was this nation.

We left Queenstown and headed to Auckland where memorials had sprung up throughout the city. Construction fencing down at the wharf quickly became covered with signatures and well wishes from people from around the world. A heart of flowers on the beach, flowers and notes surrounding the statue in Aotea Square, formal and informal signs on billboards and poles, flowers left at the foot of these signs…memorials were everywhere. GHS had the opportunity to see these as we walked the streets and to visit Aotea Square as part of our sunset hike.

We have had conversations among our group about the grace and strength shown by Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern. She has lead the country through this week and helped to bring unity to a nation who suddenly feels much less safe than before. “We Are One” has become the rallying sentiment with women on the streets wearing head scarves as a show of respect for their Muslim neighbours. Newspapers and television and radio station have covered the events with very little of the partisanship that has become so common in western media and politics. Gun control legislation has been introduced and is expected to pass through parliament with relative ease.

Virtually every conversation that I have had with a New Zealander this week has begun with a reflection on the attack. While we in North American have become somewhat, dare I say desensitized, this is a very new phenomenon for this country who feels somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. They are profoundly impacted. One of the articles I read suggested that the outpouring of support has helped to make the country safer by saying to the Muslim population that “you are part of us, you are here and in our country and welcome”. I am writing this listening to our bus driver express exactly this sentiment to one of our staff.

On Friday, the first Friday after the attack, the Muslim Call to Prayer was broadcast on all free television and radio stations across the country. From our perspective in Auckland, it appeared that the entire nation paused at 1:30 pm for the Call to Prayer which was followed by 2 minutes of silence at 1:32 pm. I happened to be in a food court ordering lunch. The busy setting went from a noisy, bustling place to silence in a matter of seconds. I ordered my lunch in tears from a Muslim vendor at the end of the silence and will remember this moment for a very long time.

On Saturday night, at the John Mayer concert, a Maori haka was performed. A haka is a ceremonial dance associated with New Zealand’s Maori people. Lots of shouting, stomping and eye movements, there isn’t just one and all have a central theme of respect. A special haka has been written and is being performed around the country as a unifying response for New Zealanders.

Students have been safe, respectful and, I believe, somewhat fortunate to have been here at this time. To quote one of our student’s parents “It is because of terror events such as that in Christchurch that we believe options such as Blyth GHS and the associated global learning it brings are so valuable in the formation of young people. In moving from location to location, culture to culture and people to people they can see the value of difference and have the opportunity to treat those with different beliefs, cultures and identities with the respect and dignity they deserve.”