Samaritans of Wellington 50 year celebration

Delivered at a dinner at Government House in honour of Wellington Samaritans.
16 Jun 2015

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  Nau mai haere mai rā ki te Whare Kawana ki Te Whanganui-a-Tara.  Kia ora tātou katoa.

I specifically acknowledge: Hon Jo Goodhew, Minister for the Community and Volunteer Sector; Her Worship Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor of Wellington; and Ken Daniels, Chair of the Board of Governance of Wellington Samaritans - tēnā koutou katoa.

It is a great pleasure for Janine and me to welcome you all to Government House this evening.  I must say I feel privileged to be addressing a group of such expert listeners, people who really understand the difference between listening and hearing.  As G K Chesterton once observed: “There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  So I will watch what I say!

You may be wondering why I am hosting Samaritans’ 50th anniversary dinner here.

It’s quite simple: people are important.  There are vulnerable people in our communities who need help, and there are wonderful people who help them.  People like Wellington’s Samaritans, past and present, have been there to help others in times of personal crisis.

This dinner is an opportunity for me as your Patron, and on behalf of New Zealanders, to thank you for the work you do.

I accepted the role of patron of Samaritans for two main reasons.  First, because it is a Wellington-based group, and being resident here we are keen to support local charities and organisations.  And second, because Samaritans reflect an acronym that guides the programme of work for Government House during our term in office.  That acronym is SERVE – Service, Excellence, Rangitahi (or Youth), Volunteering and Enterprise.

Service, because our communities depend on organisations that are prepared to provide services to the vulnerable especially; excellence, because it sets a standard for others to aspire to and deserves recognition; rangatahi, because young people are our future, and we’re responsible for their wellbeing; volunteering, because individuals who give freely of their time and expertise are our unsung heroes; and enterprise, because it promotes prosperity, progress and well-being.

I like to think that those themes resonate with New Zealanders.  We can certainly see them reflected in the Samaritans’ story, starting with the service and enterprise of your founder, Dr Chad Varah, who visited Wellington in 1965, and Dean of Wellington, Walter Hurst, who first got things going here.

In parallel with those themes, the focus for our work at Government House this year is Nationhood.  It’s a year to think about where we’ve come from, what we stand for, where we’re going and the obligations and responsibilities we have as citizens.  Over the last 50 years Samaritans have epitomised what it means to be a good citizen. 

I say this because a good citizen not only thinks about the welfare of others, but also does something about it.

I was interested to read in Sue Brown’s book – which we are launching tonight – reference to a variety of services Samaritans have provided.  Some seem to have clandestine-thriller qualities.  For example, the care given to teens in the 1960s included encouraging them to visit a coffee bar in Victoria Street where they would be met by someone wearing a white triangle.   And the “flying squad” of Samaritans who would leap into their cars at short notice and go to people’s rescue.

Similarly, it was a surprise to learn that Samaritans replied to letters.  I was heartened by this quote from a grateful recipient in the 1970s, “I cannot believe that a total stranger, and two pieces of paper, could so dramatically change my life”.

What is clear is that Samaritans’ work has reflected the social and economic upheavals of the last 50 years.  As Sue writes, Samaritans have been like canaries in the mine, providing early warning of social problems as they arise in our communities.

Like the Good Samaritan, your volunteers demonstrate the power of kindness, generosity and compassion to bring about positive change.  When your clients’ lives have been buffeted by events beyond their control, or by the unfortunate choices that they have made, it is your work that has helped them get through another day.

The hundreds of Samaritan volunteers, their diversity in terms of background, ethnicity and age, the length of service some of them have given – all are testament to the high regard for Samaritans’ services and the opportunities it provides to develop personal skills and make a positive difference to the lives of others.

The English essayist Joseph Addison said that the great essentials for happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.

I think it’s fair to say that Samaritans sets out a path to all three, for its volunteers – and for its clients.

Thank you for your dedication and commitment to serve the people of Wellington and beyond – and all the very best for the future.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa and please enjoy the hospitality of the house.

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