Not many people have heard of Zonta, but the world is bound to hear about a couple of young women who have just received awards from the organisation.
Zonta exists to help women worldwide, but like all good things, it begins at home. In south Auckland, Zonta raises money to fund local projects which include supporting teen parent units and women's refuge, and providing breast cushions for post-mastectomy women. Nationally the club supports Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Aoteoroa (PADA), and international projects are also supported through fundraising.
Zonta has always had a major focus on education for women. Every year Zonta South Auckland raises funds to provide awards for two outstanding young local women to further their education. The Young Woman in Public Affairs Award honours young women aged 16-19 who demonstrate a commitment to leadership in public policy, government and volunteer organisations.The award, recognising the leadership potential in a young woman from the community who is setting out on her career, was this year awarded to Kaushal Prasad. The Second Chance Study Award is for women aged between 25-45 to assist with a first post-secondary education course. The 2018 recipient is Rita Burgess.
At a dinner last month to present the awards, members and guests could hardly fail to be impressed by the two young women and their commitment to improving their lives and the lives of others through education. Keynote speaker Lysandra Stuart provided another living example, describing her journey from Tokoroa checkout girl to principal of Glenbrook School, garnering a master of education degree with first class honours along the way.
“And I was the first Maori woman to score a rugby try at Waikato University!”
“Education is the key to improving people's lives,” says Margaret Coe, Zonta Area 1 director.
“By educating women the wellbeing of everyone in the community is enhanced.”
A softly spoken Canadian physicist who has lived in New Zealand for 20 years, Margaret stumbled upon Zonta through a newspaper advertisement as a way to meet people. She enjoys being part of an organisation which aims to provide help in practical ways and attracts members from all walks of life.
South Auckland president Iris Durney agrees, pointing out that although the focus of Zonta is on helping women, men are welcome to join the club.
“Women's issues involve men too. For instance, it's not widely recognised that perinatal depression can affect fathers as well as mothers, hence our support for PADA.
“We get together regularly for meetings, movie evenings and social events, and we are always happy to embrace new members. Our website www.zontasouthauckland.org.nz has information about us, what we do and how to join.”
Fundraising is a constant issue to support Zonta's programmes, and members are ever alert to any and every way to liberate a few dollars from unsuspecting wallets. Raffles, of course, are a staple, and after the dinner even the floral table settings were up for sale.
Zonta South Auckland is fortunate in having a major contributor in the Chenery Trust. From a family who owned a large plumbing business in Newmarket, Hilda Chenery was keen to promote the education of young women and established a trust for that purpose.
“We're very grateful to the Chenery Trust for their continued support and generosity, helping to make the Second Chance Study Award possible,” says Iris.
“We hear great stories from our awardees and every year we are encouraged and delighted to see the wonderful women who are working hard to gain educational qualifications which will assist them and their families to go on to contribute to the future of our community.”
What is Zonta?
Motto: Empowering Women Through Service and Advocacy
Founded in 1919 in the USA, Zonta International has 30,000 members in 1,200 Zonta clubs in 67 countries. Members volunteer their time, talents and money to support women and girls in their local communities, run projects in many parts of the world to improve the lives of women, and advocate on women’s issues at all levels of society. International projects such as ending child marriages for girls, encouraging girls to stay on at school in Madagascar and empowering Syrian refugee women in Jordan are supported.
There are scholarship and award programmes for furthering women’s education and also youth leadership development through Z Clubs and Golden Z Clubs. Zonta sponsors programmes to help women in the field of public affairs and policy making.
Zonta International has a long and well-respected history of partnership in programmes with United Nations agencies and maintains consultative status on women’s issues with the UN and Council of Europe.
In New Zealand Zonta has been active for 50 years, with 28 clubs from Northland to Otago.
The Zonta Club of South Auckland was established in 1977 and continues to serve women in the local community and overseas.
Recipient of the Young Woman in Public Affairs Award
Bright and bubbly, Kaushal is in year 13 at Aorere College in Papatoetoe and excited at the prospect of beginning university law studies. Her $1500 award will go towards text books, some of which can cost hundreds of dollars.
Described by one of her teachers as having a strong sense of social justice, Kaushal has taken an activist approach to volunteer work, from fundraising for mental health and collecting food for the homeless to banner waving at a land protest (“we were so noisy we stopped a shareholders' meeting,” she grins).
An Amnesty International member, Kaushal says she feels for her brothers and sisters in other countries: “They fight to go to school – it should be a right. I go because I have to.”
Kaushal attributes her drive to her mother. “She's the epitome of a strong woman. She taught me everything I know. She says you must fight to find your voice. There are many ways to serve women - you don't have to be an MP.”
Recipient of the Second Chance Study Award
Leaving school with no formal qualification was an act of rebellion for Rita.
“My mum was on the board of trustees, but I just didn't see the value of education. I didn't know what I wanted to do so there was no motivation.”
Rita became a successful sales rep. “But I knew I could do better than I was. It wasn't until I took my second son to start school that I had a lightbulb moment. I realised this was where I wanted to be.”
Spurred on by the example of her mother, who studied to become an early childhood teacher in her mid-40s despite English being her second language, Rita set about qualifying as a primary school teacher. Being accepted for university without qualifications was one hurdle, finance was another for the solo mother of three. But determination carried her through: “We all remember that special teacher from our schooldays. I want to be that teacher.”
Now in the final year of her Bachelor of Education degree at Auckland University, Rita has topped her first two years as the highest Pasifika achiever and is on track to do the same this year. The 36 year old, of Samoan and Palagi heritage, is taking post-graduate studies in maths and science, and hopes to inspire other Pasifika students to do likewise.
Rita's two older sons, ten year old Weston and nine year old Spencer, watched proudly as Rita accepted her $5000 Zonta study award.