To Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos New Zealand, to Andrea Jeffery, Wellington Regional Programme Manager and Stacey Agnew, Wellington Mentor of the Roots of Empathy Programme, to Your Worship Wayne Guppy, Mayor of Upper Hutt City, to school principals, to teachers, to parents, to boys and girls, and to Distinguished Guests; tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Good morning to you all.
It is lovely to be here today with these children, babies, parents, teachers, instructors and supporters of the Roots of Empathy programme.
The programme has proved to be a winner for everyone, babies, children, parents and schools since it was introduced to New Zealand classrooms in 2007. Its reach now extends from Auckland, to Wellington and to Christchurch.
New Zealand now has the longest-running international Roots of Empathy Programme, which has already reached more than 4,000 children in four years. In 2010-11, Barnardos, one of this country’s largest and most trusted children's organisations, became the lead agency for the Programme.
As joint patrons of Barnardos New Zealand Anand and I endorse its active support for a programme that has had an effect in raising social and emotional competence among children and increasing their empathy with others.
I have been privileged to see the programme ‘in action’ in a classroom at Johnsonville School. The views of the principal and the teacher were that the programme being run in the class had improved those children’s attitudes to babies and to each other.
Henry, the baby partnered with this class, was then nine months old and he was accompanied by his fine Dad who those children took a lead from when they played with Henry.
As Henry was passed around the circle from child to child we could see that the children were enjoying the experience and that Henry had formed relationships with them. He was happy to be made a fuss of!
It was a joy to see how the children were having fun, playing with Henry, and to see the learning led interactively by mentor, Stacey Agnew. We saw warmth, care and tenderness steered quite naturally by a woman with a deep understanding.
Those children were empathising with Henry and, as a result, glimpsing the broader concept of the value of a human life.
The founder of the Roots of Empathy programme, Mary Gordon, understands how understanding what others feel, or empathy, can overcome violence. In her book Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, she wrote:
“Empathy helps us to find our moral compass in a world where we are at risk of being anaesthetized by sensory and information overload. It brings us back to the fundamental importance of what it is to be human, what it is to truly see another’s joy or sadness or pain. Emotional literacy gives us the tools to take these innermost feelings and beliefs and give them a voice.”
The Roots of Empathy programme can play a significant role in teaching children emotional literacy, the key to managing oneself and interacting with others.
We have three small grandchildren and, with them, we are reminded of the open-ness of young children. They are like sponges that take up everything they find on the floor and learn acutely from people around.
I commend all of you who have made the programme happen. For the management at Barnardos, in particular Andrea Jeffery, and the Ministry of Social Development, for the schools, children, and the families.. At the kernel are parents and babies who volunteer their time to commit to this programme and the school. I believe that it is a relationship in which everyone wins and the impact that you make on this country’s children’s lives cannot be overstated.
Mary Gordon wrote:
“Roots of Empathy children are storing up skills to create a generation of parents and citizens who will change the world, child by child.”
I wish you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours, no reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.