A Dargaville Methodist presbyter has been hard at work injecting a vibrant spirit into the local community while giving its youngest citizens a head start in life – from Touchstone
Rev Kuli Fisi’iahi has been in the Northland town since 2013, when he became a minister at the Wesley Methodist Parish. Since his arrival he has helped set up two playgroups and re-established the town’s brass band.
The early childhood centres came about when Kuli realised mothers and their young children needed a place to socialise and learn from one another. “The Methodist Church is encouraging its people to consider the needs of children through our Let the Children Live initiative, and that inspired me to do something for the community.”
Kuli says when low numbers of children are enrolled in early childhood education it can lead to problems later on in their schooling. “Primary schools are finding problems when a lot of kids don’t know their colours or their numbers.” With Kuli’s leadership, two playgroups have been set up with funding from the Ministry of Education. One is Tongan and is based at Selwyn Park School, the other is Maori and is run out of the church.
Children in each centre learn the basic concepts such as colours and numbers, sing songs, and get immersion in their native languages. “They are socialising and are starting to focus. They are improving through fellowship and scholarship,” Kuli says. The mothers also benefit from socialising with other people at the playgroups. Neither playgroup has a paid coordinator. The mothers work together to co-ordinate the activities. Members of the community worked hard to get the playgroup started even before Kuli secured government funding. “For three months before we received ministry funding we held monthly fundraising events to buy toys and feed the children.”
This spirit of cooperation also enabled the Dargaville community to get its brass band up and running again after more than 40 years. Kuli says the first Dargaville brass band was established a century ago and was disbanded in 1975. Reestablishing it is something the community pushed for, and helped make a reality. For the last couple of years the town’s annual Christmas parade was led by a visiting band – the Northcote brass band – but it soon became evident that the local people wanted their own.
“People in the community were calling for us to start our own,” Kuli says. Individuals came forth to donate more than $11,000 and get the band on its feet. On top of this, the Methodist Church has also donated a grant of $10,000 through the Prince Albert College Trust towards the band. The money has been used to buy the band’s instruments and meet other costs.
Today the Dargaville Brass Band has 24 members, the youngest of whom is five and plays the cornet. It is Kuli’s hope that the band will march and play proud and true in all its glory at this year’s Christmas Parade. In the interim it will likely be spotted in and around the community, visiting hospitals and shopping centres in the school holidays.