After my two weeks with the M. family in Lower Hutt, I spent a week HelpXing in the Wellington suburb of Johnsonville. It was more of a long-term couchsurfing experience than anything since I barely did any work but, true to the spirit of my hosts, it was one of the busiest weeks I’ve spent in New Zealand so far!
My hosts for the week were Gabrielle and Dan, a young couple who moved to the area three years ago. Gabrielle is a native New Zealander, while Dan is Canadian — they met as teenagers when they both enrolled in the Canadian Army Reserves, and after dating only three weeks Gabrielle followed him home while he finished school. They got married, traveled the world for a year, and then finally settled in New Zealand (though ‘settled’ isn’t perhaps the right word for this couple, who had five different addresses in five years!).
Gabrielle, armed with a masters degree in international law and politics, has a foreign policy analyst job with the Government in Wellington, while Dan is studying towards a nursing degree. On top of their busy schedules, they’ve also HelpXed themselves in New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Spain, are active HelpX and Couchsurfing hosts, and serve as temporary foster parents for at-risk youth. Oh, and Gabrielle is nearly three months pregnant and is also the founding member of a soon-to-be national art therapy charity. (And I thought I was busy!)
When I arrived on the evening of February 8th, I was greeted by a very smiley Gabrielle and a beautiful full moon setting over the Johnsonville hills. I had a pretty good feeling about my stay after that:
My stay ended up being more of a Helpx/Couchsurfing blend than a true HelpX experience. Gabrielle had recently been re-assigned from overseeing free trade agreements with China to doling out academic scholarships to scholars from third world countries, while Dan spent the majority of the week studying for his upcoming exams, so they had little time to spend with me. Instead they asked that I volunteer 2 hours of work a day, usually in the form of making bead kits for Gabrielle’s charity CanBead. I got through all of the beading supplies on my first night there though, and instead I spent the majority of my time working on the business documents for CanBead’s upcoming funding applications (!).
The CanBead Charitable Trust is an art therapy charity that Gabrielle co-founded with a group of friends after a close friend of theirs found solace in jewellery-making while battling skin cancer. Gabrielle, a keen jewellery- and glass-making enthusiast, had provided her with craft supplies when she first entered the hospital, and the friend made a necklace for every time she underwent chemo. At the end of her treatment she raised nearly $4000 by auctioning her jewellery, and the idea of CanBead was born! Now, the charity runs jewellery-making workshops for cancer patients and others with chronic illness or trauma, and they’re hoping to expand nationwide. As the only member with policy-making and non-profit experience Gabrielle became the Trust’s key Funding and Policy Officer, and has had to write the entirety of their their strategic and funding plans in her (very limited) spare time. But after learning about my business/public policy/editing background, Gabrielle decided to let me work on them instead (thanks, LAMP, WTS, and SPEA!). It was the first time I’d used my skills outside of an academic assignment, and it was absolutely glorious – I actually knew what I was doing, and it was going to affect people in a real way! I felt very humbled that she trusted me to look at her work, and it was a great learning experience. I hope I was able to help in some small way!
In my spare time during the day, I usually took the time to explore Wellington City (only a 15-minute walk and 30-minute train ride away). I’ll dedicate a full post to the city later on, but on one memorable Saturday afternoon Gabrielle did accompany my into the city where we explored the Wellington Underground Market before meeting a friend of hers outside at a Hare Krishna festival! The Underground Market was a severe test of my self-discipline (so many beautiful, semi-affordable things in one place, and so many delicious things to eat combined in one tiny underground bunker by the waterfront!), but I resisted long enough to enjoy the huge free meal served up by the Hare Krishna’s right outside. Beautiful colors, beating drums, and smells of curry filled up our senses despite the strong winds from the wharf, and yoga classes, dancing, and dessert-eating contests provided entertainment. There was even a strangely out of place Burger King-themed bouncy house for the kids! I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, despite the awful American tourists who cut in line for the free food (in front of a huge line of people who’d been waiting for nearly half an hour), because they ‘couldn’t wait’ and had to get back to their cruise ship (where they were getting another free lunch!). Ugh. We ended the day just a few meters up the road at Te Papa, where we attended the opening ceremony for a book on traditional Cook Islands tattooing and saw a 3D video on giant squid. Lesson of the day: always explore the city with a native – they find the most interesting destinations!
My stay with Dan and Gabrielle was topped by opportunity to blow my very own glass beads. Gabrielle had set up her own mini glass-blowing studio in the garage, and quickly taught me how to melt the glass, wind it around a metal mandril, and create all sorts of special effects with metal shards, gold dust, and other colored glass instruments. I even learned how to make bubbles! My beads weren’t anything fancy, but I loved the experience – the glass melts to a consistency like honey, and the process of cooling, heating, cooling, and re-heating has a rhythm to it that’s rather Zen-like. Of course, you’re also operating under the slightly adrenaline-pumping fear of having the glass blow up in your face! Unfortunately many of the beads I created ended up getting stuck to the mandrils :(, but Gabrielle was able to salvage some and helped me make them into pendants.
All in all it was a lovely opportunity to meet some fascinating world travelers who had a lot to teach about backpacking, HelpXing, and multitasking. Plus, I don’t know where else I would have had the combined opportunity of blowing glass and (semi) working for a burgeoning nonprofit! A lovely opportunity, indeed.