Spreading the Love in the Aftermath of Cyclone Destruction

Sandra Matthews from Rural Women New Zealand with her team of helpers preparing their “aroha packages” for people affected by Cyclone Gabrielle

By Sonia Kennedy and Denise Irvine

Six months on from Cyclone Gabrielle, if you don’t live in the impacted regions, you could be forgiven for imagining the cleanup is all sorted. The reality is a far cry from that rosy scenario.

Impassable roads, washed-out bridges & culverts, and damage to fencing from forestry slash that thundered through in the floods are what many farmers along the East Coast of the North Island are still facing.  With two cyclones hitting within weeks of each other plus a steady occurrence of heavy rainfall events, the ground has remained too sodden for major remediation to be carried out.

“Many of our gravelled roads have been closed to heavy machinery up until now and it has rained almost constantly since Cyclone Gabrielle,” says Sandra Matthews, National Board Chair, Rural Women New Zealand and Tairāwhiti local. “This has meant farmers can’t get diggers to their farms but even if they could, the ground has been too wet for it to be safe for the digger operators.  It is only in the last few weeks that people have been able to start making inroads.”

The impacts of a natural disaster are long felt – scars on the land can take many years to heal and livelihoods may have been destroyed.  One positive aspect amidst the weary prospect of rebuilding lives is the wraparound support provided by the local Rural Coordination Group. Bringing together a mix of government agencies and farming industry bodies, the Rural Coordination Group can champion support for farming communities at a number of different levels.  In Gisborne, the Rural Coordination Group consists of Rural Women New Zealand, Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb NZ, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Rural Support Trust, Ministry for Social Development (MSD) and Te Puni Kōkiri, the government’s advisors for Māori wellbeing, Trust Tairawhiti and Gisborne District Council.

“It is a real collaboration of government ministries with a range of organisations that support rural communities from mental health and on-farm support through to financial support,” says Sandra.  “In the wake of the cyclones, MPI locally in Gisborne has been incredible – I couldn’t fault them for the work they have done here to support our farming communities.”

In addition to the resources available through the Rural Coordination Group, other organisations have found their own meaningful ways to contribute to communities that have borne the brunt of the cyclone impacts.  Rural Women New Zealand members from all around NZ have pitched in by donating baked goods, knitted garments, household sundries and handmade quilts. “These are aroha packages – it is just about letting people know that others are thinking of them and care. After Cyclone Hale we distributed about 100 packs and we have close to another 300 being delivered now,” says Sandra.  “The feedback we have had is really touching – there have been people calling us in tears as they are so grateful to know there is support out there for them.”

Further to the distribution of these aroha packages, Rural Women New Zealand has an Adverse Events Relief Fund which is designed to provide a one-off financial donation to a rural family or individual in need. “People can apply for up to $1000 to help carry them through a particularly difficult time financially following an adverse event.  Since Cyclone Gabrille hit, we have distributed approximately $130,000 to people in need.”

If you would like to donate to Rural Women NZ’s Adverse Event Relief Fund, go to: