© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Students unite for a healthy Ōpāwaho

Tommy Flavill
Claudia Toxopeus
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School students excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves  Christchurch City Council

Local school students have banded together to lead community action in improving the health of the Ōpāwaho River.

Erosion and runoff sediment from the Port hills is becoming problematic in polluting the Opawaho river and Cashmere stream.

It had been made worse since earthworks for housing development, tracks, forestry, and farming began.

Healthy Ōpāwaho is a collaborative communities education project that aims to empower young people to lead community action towards creating a healthy river.

The project began in 2017 when the Department Of Conservation went to the Council and pitched the idea of a community education project.

The initiative involves 15 children from five different schools with the common goal of connecting and collaborating.

The youngest student was seven when he joined the project.

The aim is to inspire students to take action for a healthy Ōpāwaho, building on individual projects already underway in the community.

The projects byline is oranga awa, oranga tāngata, meaning healthy river, healthy people.

A 2016 surface water quality survey crowned Heathcote river as having the city’s unhealthiest water. 

When sediment ends up in our waterways, it damages ecosystems by poisoning land or water, removing plants and trees or killing the fish, insects, birds, and animals that live there.

Education coordinator, Sally Airey works alongside schools in their efforts to preserve the river.

“Young people are our future leaders and need to be given the opportunity to make decisions that can lead to positive change in our communities and our environment."

Over 100 schools and early childhood education centres are based within one kilometre of the awa. 

Many of these are taking action to preserve their cultural narrative.

Parents of young students have reported that the project fills their children with pride and identity. 

Over the past year, students from five local primary and secondary schools have joined forces to work collaboratively on this project. 

Our Lady Of Assumption, Hillmorton, Cashmere High, West Spreydon, and Beckenham School make up this list. 

The project has secured an extra three months of funding from the City Council to continue their work.

Spredyon-Cashmere Community Board Chair, Karolin Potter said she is thrilled to hear the project is gaining traction. 

"I'm delighted! Her passion for the participation of the students in these projects is evident."


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The student's efforts are having a positive impact on the community.

Methods such as using witch hats, testing water quality, doing rubbish cleanups, and monitoring the waste that ends up in the river are all part of students creating change.

Since the project began, Airey and her team have recognised an increase in insects and birds in the surrounding area. 

Other organisations are also getting involved.

The Cashmere Stream Care Group links the City Council, ECAN and private landowners into identifying areas where they can modify the environment back into its natural habitat. 

Chair of the Care Group, Ken Rouse, said he was concerned by the sediment loads the stream was regularly subjected to.

"It's the biggest issues we've faced in New Zealand in terms of pollution," Rouse said.

"It's getting worse in the range of four to seven percent each year."

However, Rouse feels confident this education project will create a legacy of students taking action.

"If you can get the philosophy, values and involvement of students at that age to understand the ecology and how critical it is to improve it, you have a better position going forward then there ever was with my generation."

School's aren't the only ones who can get involved. 

Airey encourages the public to take action, head along to community plantings, and pick up rubbish from drains.

The project is set to create a culture among the next generation to take action for the future. 

As Ken Rouse said, "they are quite inspirational, aren't they?"

More information can be found online.