Fighting for fair in the Far North

For Diane Henderson, making sure kids in the Far North get the same opportunities as other New Zealand children is a constant motivation. 

Diane has been Chair of the Far North Life Education Trust for 13 years and was recently made a life member of the organisation.  

The Trust’s area stretches across 200km and has a lot of smaller, remote schools. 

“It’s special that Life Ed makes the effort to visit those schools, because nobody else will. I know it has an impact in the schools. We can’t let the kids in the Far North miss out on what other kids in New Zealand have – it’s not fair.” 

Sadly, the Far North features on the wrong side of many of the country’s social and health statistics. Diane says Life Education’s Healthy Harold programme is comprehensive, covering both physical and mental health and has plenty of important messages for kids in the area to take on board.  

The Trustees’ primary role is finding funding for the region’s Life Education mobile classroom, Educator and resource materials. 

“It’s really challenging,” says Diane. “There isn’t a big city in our region, so there aren’t big businesses we can reach out to.” 

Instead, the Trust relies on grants and community fundraising events. Their activities have included kitchen and garden safaris, mystery tours and half marathons. For a while, they even provided lunches at the local cattleyards as a fund raiser. They’re always looking for something new and have recently taken over the Book Fair from the local Rotary club. 

They have also called on individuals. This year, after a television interview, the Trust’s Give-a-little page drew in hundreds of donations to get them over the line for a long overdue technology upgrade to the mobile classroom. 

“We are the last Trust in the country to get our upgrade, so we are very grateful. The technology will help bring the lessons to life,” says Diane. 

When Diane joined the Trust in 2006, she was new to the region, but no stranger to the world of education. Diane had been teaching for 11 years and was introduced to the Trust by a principal she had relieved for. 

“For me, it was a good fit. It was a way of getting to know more people, it was also good to get to know the other areas of the Far North.” 

Diane also worked as an ICT facilitator for the Ministry of Education and was visiting a lot of schools. 

“I was seeing where Harold went and how it worked.” 

She took over the Chair role in 2008 when Norma Bates, another former teacher, handed her the reins. 

“Being educators ourselves, it made it easier to understand what happens in schools. We knew a lot of the principals.” 

She says an important part of the Chairperson’s role is ensuring the Trustees work well together. Having specific roles helps. One of the Far North Trustees has recently taken on the role of applying for funding grants and the Secretary has been with Trust longer than Diane.   

Diane recommends anyone thinking of becoming a Trustee should get on board. 

“The rewards are so great. You only have to sit in a mobile classroom for one session and you’re hooked. It’s hard work, but you meet some great people. It becomes a passion.” 

She loves seeing children’s excitement when they see Harold the Giraffe or the local Educator at community events. 

“It doesn’t matter where – a Christmas parade or marathon, they just go crazy. It’s not just school aged children – its teens who remember what Harold did for them.” 

Diane was made a life member of Life Education Trust NZ in 2021 for her incredible commitment to the Trust (which extends to storing the tractor unit for the mobile classroom in her driveway!). 

“It was such a surprise, and a wonderful feeling for me. It’s a team effort but I know you have to have someone at the end of the line.” 

She has recently retired from teaching to spend more time with her ten grandchildren and in her garden, but it’s obvious her impact on schools and children in the region will continue through her role at Life Education.