Weaving Together the Summer Youth Gathering
How did you get here? This is our story of the process of creating Being Well: Ōtautahi Summer Youth Gathering at Ōnuku Marae, 20 – 25 January, an initiative supported by the Youth Section of the Anthroposophical Society in New Zealand.
Weaving Together the Summer Youth Gathering
Leaving the Ōnuku Marae. was an ending, but as we are still tying up all the ends it is clearly not all over. Just as leaving the marae was not really the end of the Gathering,our pōwhiri was not really the beginning. The first question we asked participants to share in our opening circle on the first night that we arrived at Ōnuku, was “How did you get here?” Sitting here reflecting on the process of putting together this event, I find myself asking the same question – how did the Gathering get here?
This Gathering was conceived at the end of last year’s Winter Gathering held in Purau Bay, in Lyttelton harbour,Christchurch. Out of this Gathering, a group formed with energy and commitment to create a Summer Gathering in Christchurch. The theme of health and well-being had been suggested by previous gathering participants. This theme felt wholly relevant for us living in ‘quakey’Christchurch. Ana Pearson and I had been studying health and Māori concepts of hauora at Teachers’ College, and were inspired to hold this Gathering with this theme on a marae. We dreamed of finding a marae that we could build a meaningful relationship with, who would want to participate in some way in our event, and where we could give something back, perhaps in the form of a garden.
We then began networking with our professors at Teachers’ College, picking their brains about possible venues, and getting advice about how to best approach and engage with a marae. Various signposts ended up pointing to Ōnuku Marae as a good possible venue. We made contact, and were instantly met with enthusiasm, especially for the idea of working together on a garden. We found out that Ōnuku Marae had just received a grant to develop a large food garden on a historic garden site behind the marae. It seemed like a magic coincidence. We went for our first visit to the marae, and were blown away by the beauty of the spot. The marae sits on the edge of Akaroa harbour, between the water and the hills. What a place to meet and be well in! We agreed with the marae that we would provide some volunteer energy to help start their garden during the Gathering, and made our booking.
We had a theme and a venue. This thing was really happening! The end of the year was rapidly approaching, and it was a busy time, growing and developing our infant Gathering. We learnt about budgeting, had plenty of late night skype sessions, developed our networks, found mentors, and began fundraising. We began to hunt and gather supporters or godparents from our networks: people who could present at the Gathering; young people who wanted to come; and crucially, organisations, businesses and individuals who were prepared to donate goods or money to help us make our budget balance. Key sponsors of this event were Crystal Bridge Gift and Loan fund, Helios Integrative Medical Centre, and Taruna Essential Education. There were many more individuals and businesses who helped make this event possible, who we are extremely grateful to.
Several people from the Christchurch Rudolf Steiner School suggested we get in touch with Marinus La Rooij about our garden project. We bumped into him, told him our ideas, and he very quickly threw his heart and skills into the project, becoming ‘godfather extraordinaire’ for the Gathering. We arranged a second visit to the marae, to meet one of the key figures about our plans for the garden.
We arrived, and the person we had arranged to meet wasn’t there! However, during this particular visit, we connected with several other people from Ōnuku. We met a young man from the marae, who is passionate about his place and his stories. He ended up sharing most of the Gathering with us, adding depth and richness to our experience, and taking away some great connections of his own. We met a young mother, and were thrilled when she came back to see us during the Gathering. She spent most afternoons working with us in the garden, and participated in a lot of our activities with her gorgeous daughter and baby boy. During this same visit, we met one of the Kuia (grandmothers), who came and sat with us for one day of the Gathering, listening, sharing stories, and teaching some of us some weaving. All of these meetings were ‘by accident’, and all of them planted seeds that bore fruit during the Gathering.
After several more conversations, it became clear that the big garden would not be ready to start by the time we would be there, so we developed a new plan with the marae, to help them set up a herb garden near the wharekai (food hall). Marinus and Ana planted out seeds in preparation.
We are hugely proud of, and thankful for, this herb garden. It was really the centre of our Gathering. This garden brought together the hau kaika (homecrowd/place) and us manuhiri (visitors). Working on this together has given us something in common, an experience and project that binds together those who contributed. It is a reason and an excuse for us to visit again, to keep in contact. In our handing-over ceremony, Marinus ceremonially handed over one of his well-worn hoes. Long may it turn over the soil, and keep the weeds from crowding out the more than hundred plants that are growing there.
The actual Gathering emerged into the light with a big sneeze, full of song, play, great food and inspiration. We were blessed to have the company of children, mothers and elders. And like other Gatherings, this was a meeting place that allowed young people who are striving spiritually to connect, and was a starting point for some who will go on to work with Anthroposophy. They are organised by a different group each year, and only happen if people have energy to create them. If you, or someone you know, are interested in being involved in a future event like this, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Gathering is not quite over. Now is the time for reflecting and learning from the process, and weaving together the loose ends. I’m still wondering how did the Gathering get here? Well, perhaps like all of us, it already existed somewhere; it chose the place where it would be born, the people that would carry it, and those who would surround it and help it grow. So now, I would like to thank the people, places, forces, spirits that wove together to make this event come into being. Thank you all.
He whiringa takitahi, Ka hunahuna
He whiringa ngātahi, Ka raranga, Ka mau
“If you plait one at a time, the ends will fragment
If you weave together, it will hold”
Emily Clark was one of the organisers of this year’s Youth Gathering