© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2019

Childrens' programme makes a difference

Emma Turton

After a couple of conversations and perfect timing, Ania Szurpicka and Nicki Aitken had a kids programme up and running.

The 'Wonderful Me' programme was funded by the Waipuna-Riccarton-Halswell-Hornby community board through the University of Canterburys' 'Christchurch 101' course.

The UC course had students locate a community group that needed funding and pitch it to the local community board. Out of the six ideas pitched, 'Wonderful Me' was one of three winning projects. Each project was allocated $500.

Ania Szurpicka, who was an art therapist in Poland, used her previous skills to design and run the childrens' 'Wonderful Me' programme. The intention of the program was to empower children to value their unique skills and differences.

In Europe, art therapy is used to express inner feelings and is a recognised qualification.

"In New Zealand, it hasn't really progressed past drawing," Szurpicka said.

She said she had seen "pictures of abuse through drawing" and used art as a tool to delve into deeper problems.

'Wonderful Me' was free and aimed at children whose families could not afford after-school activities. It ran in the Riccarton Baptist Church and was supported by the Oak Development Trust, which has also helped to set up and run many other community initiatives in the neighbourhood.

Ten children from a variety of different cultures came along to the course. "They could all speak a second language," said Nicki Aitken, a Community Development worker who helped set up and run the programme.

Szurpicka found 'Wonderful Me' was important to the children because it was "giving them roots" and a safe space to develop friendships, when they might otherwise be swept up in their parents' struggles after immigrating to New Zealand. She said, "It takes about two years to really fit in and usually the children lack emotional nourishment."

Aitken and Szurpicka, along with three other leaders, ran the programme as volunteers, putting their hearts into enabling kids to grow from being unsure of themselves, to relaxed and friendly.

Activities such as drawing what they liked and then explaining why, or doing fingerprint painting, highlighted the childrens' differences and then celebrated them.

Szurpicka found the programme challenging to run, because English was her second language, but with the help of Aitken translating, it was a success.

The children also had language barriers because of their different ethnicities, but seeing their leader get support from another adult reassured them and made them help each other.

The programme relies on funding to run again and Szurpicka hoped it would because four weeks was not enough. She would rather see it run for a term, so that friendships could develop and strengthen.