The power of community

by Andy Bryenton

Ruawai is a small town, which often punches well above its weight when it comes to generosity, and in innovations that catch the attention of the wider public; last spring, in 2018, came an event that brought a new meaning to ‘grass-roots support’.

People from Ruawai took it upon themselves to launch a six-kilometre walk against cancer, with all the proceeds going to the New Zealand Cancer Society and their good works.

This year, by popular demand, it’s back. As Pink Ribbon month brings the issue of cancer treatment and support into public focus, the little town by the banks of the Kaipara Harbour and Northern Wairoa River is once again rallying. They don’t have a national organisation, a television campaign, or celebrity superstars. However, they do have some very dedicated locals, a whole heap of goodwill from businesses throughout the district, and plans for the kind of festival and fun day you might have thought no longer existed in New Zealand. It does, and it’s here on Saturday, October 19 at the Ruawai Rugby Club. The best part — it’s free to attend! Expect to pop a coin or two in the bucket for the cause, of course.

Locals have donated great prizes for a series of raffles. Others are donating their time to play live music, to paint kids’ faces or to wield the barbecue tongs for a sausage sizzle. There’s even carnival-style rides for the youngsters, thanks to Kidztime, candy floss and shaved ice and lots of activities and games. The centrepiece of the event is a six-kilometre walk, for which attendees are encouraged to make placards and banners with supportive messages for those battling cancer and to dress ‘bright, loud and proud’ as a reflection of the willingness to get this topic out of the dark and into the open. In the spirit of the day, there are prizes for those who come in the most outrageous, colourful costumes and themes.

When it comes to feeding the multitudes afterwards, there’s another great local tradition to share. A monster hangi is being sunk into the earth to cook to perfection, and it’s the kind, which proves that food really doesn’t taste better any other way. Pre-sales for a feast from the hangi pit are on sale now at Ruawai Four Square.

The tight-knit community of Ruawai is exactly the kind of place where cancer and its toll on society are felt most keenly.

When everyone knows everyone, it’s natural for grief and even anger at the impact of this disease to be shared. That’s why the idea to fight back didn’t need to come from an organised campaign in this community. It is, however, an idea that the organisers hope catches on elsewhere.

“It’s about hope,” says one of the ladies behind Step Up For Cancer Ruawai, Wai Hunter.

“That, and communities coming together. Let’s inspire other towns to do similar things. Together, we can make a huge difference. Imagine if everyone decided to take a stand against cancer like this; the impact it would have on the lives of those coping with cancer, survivors, the families who need help because they have lost whanau, loved ones. The money for doctors to look for a cure.”

These sentiments are in line with the work being undertaken day by day in communities nationwide by the NZCF, and other specific organisations such as Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, Leukemia and Blood Cancer NZ, Prostate Cancer Foundation NZ and more.

Not for profit organisations without massive government funding, often spearhead initiatives to educate the public about early detection of cancer, prevention of the disease through healthier living practices, and offer practical support such as driving people to clinical visits, talking to them on the phone when they are scared or isolated, and helping their families understand the fight that they are facing. That’s exactly the spirit in which Ruawai will mobilise on the 19th; they, and staunch supporters from all across the Kaipara and beyond.

Those behind this march wish to offer their heartfelt thanks to every person who plans to attend, every business, which has donated or sponsored, every organisation that has pledged support and, of course, to all the folks who are spreading the word.

As they say: “At the end of the day it’s not just about giving a big donation. If we can convince just one other town to do the same, we’d feel very humbled, very pleased.”