HOMEMADE HAPPINESS

What is the secret to finding happiness? In search of an answer, high school students traveled as long as nine hours to unpack the mystery of happiness and to discover exactly how much they could make an impact at home. The week-long Homemade Happiness seminar was filled with practical sessions, workshops and great meals. By the end, the group left tired but excited to start creating happiness at home. 

Homemade Happiness, held in April 2016, was the inaugural seminar held in the Southern Hemisphere of its kind. The seminar mirrored the international forum for young people: Incontro Romano. The seminar hoped to spark an interest on the importance of human dignity, the family and the work of the home. Realising the necessity of these core topics for society, sponsors contributed $xx to enable students to attend.  

"It's so important for young people to understand the inestimable value of people and to act accordingly. The more who hear this message the better", commented one anonymous sponsor. 

The 'My Kitchen Rules' challenge was a highlight for the girls. Each night one team was scheduled to prepare the meal, decorate the dining room and coordinate dinner service. Head chef and judge, Corina Assen, directed kitchen operations. After a brief Master Class, the team got straight into producing for a crowd of over 30 people. While the kitchen was a flurry of whisks and pots, the dining room was transformed into a formal restaurant. 

"Cooking for each their peers is showing the girls one way they can think of others. With their excitement, they're demonstrating a true example of joyful self-giving!" comments Corina during kitchen preparation. At 6:30 on the dot, the proud chefs were ready to serve their meal. "I wonder if mum feels this nervous before she serves dinner every night", said Milou Sopers from Hamilton.

The girls discovered that they did not need to look very far in order to find happiness. The answer was simple: Happiness comes as a result of joyful self-giving. "Having a positive impact on the world is easier than I thought," commented Maria Helbano, a student from Wellington. "It's in showing affection for my parents through small things like smiling. It's in overcoming my moodiness when I'm tired, and ultimately it's in having other people in mind instead of myself all the time. Okay, maybe it's not so easy!" The daily workshops gave a stable foundation for each girl to realise that she is a vital element in her family with an ability to make a great positive impact.

The girls were also given the opportunity to present to each other their own ideas on homemade happiness. Sixteen year old student Rebecca Baird, ran a session on "All things Meringue". A group from Auckland put together a short film on discovering the joy of self-giving and Kiara Japon from Australia presented a video on the meaning of family. 

On the final day, the girls were sad to pack up their things and go their separate ways. "It helps to know that I have friends all over the country, and even in Australia, trying to make a difference" said Therese Mettrick from the Kapiti Coast. Homemade happiness is centred on helping students discover their responsibility for contributing to the happiness of others. With the urgent need for strong families all over the world, Homemade Happiness 2016 hopes to be the first seminar of many. 

FEAR TO FREEDOM

Joining forces with the Refugee Orientation Centre Trust, Rimbrook ran its 14th Refugee Holiday Program this year. The project was designed as a leadership-building opportunity for high-school students across New Zealand. After a gruelling interview, a group of 8 girls were selected to make up the team. Students were chosen from Wellington, Whakatane, Hamilton and Auckland. Since the 2011 inauguration, 68 student leaders have passed through the program .

Across five days, leaders take the refugee children through a series of  constructive activities; playing soccer, making monsters, performing in talent quests to name a few. Vivian, the manager of Rimbrook commented, "We don't give them much, but they - the leaders too - get a lot out of it." All the activities give the leaders a chance to teach the children what the Kiwi life is like, to practice their English and to have a good time.

The dingy hall with cracked walls and no electricity seems like a paradise compared to what these kids have seen.  Corruption and fear forces many families to flee their original homes and escape to New Zealand each year. Hamilton is becoming home to countless refugees from Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo, Iraq and Somalia. A number of them are children who suffer from isolation, culture shock and insecurity.

Elodie, mother of four, spoke with the leaders. In broken English she explained her family’s story.

"My husband was a bus driver. We were frightened so my husband took six families on the bus to escape Congo." After a few hours they entered a forest area near the countries border. A band of soldiers was hiding in the trees. The soldiers swarmed around the bus, dragged Elodie’s husband from the driver's seat and forced him onto his knees. Waving their clubs, they screamed for him to abandon the families. When he refused, they beat him to death. Elodie strapped her twins to her front and back and carried the baby. She and her eldest daughter walked for two days until they reached the Ugandan camp. In January, they were granted refugee status in New Zealand.

"I don’t think the kids quite realise how much they’re affecting us," Simone Stoove, 16 year old Deputy Head Girl of Whakatane High commented. "They show us how to be happy with the simple pleasures of life. With their past it makes you wonder how they can smile again. It’s really putting things into perspective."

By day five, everyone had become attached to the kids. After an emotional goodbye the leaders went home tired but happy and embracing a new view on the important things in life.