27 May On a mission to make a difference
Improving the life of people with challenges in the Cook Islands is the main mission of the new principal and manager of the Creative Centre Rodger Harkness.
Harkness believes that underneath the label that society gives us, we are all the same, so who are we to judge?
The Kiwi, from Opotiki, loves his new job and the satisfaction he gets from it.
Prior to arriving in Cook Islands he worked as a kindergarten teacher in Opotiki and he has a post graduate degree in special needs under his belt.
This gives him an extra advantage in his new job at the centre and his own personal experiences add to that.
He has a son who suffers from autism and he is all too aware of the challenges that face people who have disabilities: the exclusion, the stigma, the lack of involvement in society and the awareness that comes from being different – and he is here to do something about it.
“I finished my post graduate from Auckland University and I worked with people with challenges. My own son who is 13 has challenges as he suffers from autism and it made me more passionate about working with people like him who are going through similar experiences,” says Harkness.
But he believes that society is too fast to label a person if they do not fit the norm and he says that is not right.
He is reluctant to use the term ‘disability’ and he explains why, “I do not like saying the word disability because everyone has an inability of some sort. Disability has negative connotations.”
Harkness wants to do all he can to make the lives of the Creative Centre students and clients as productive as he can without denying them the enjoyment of getting a job done.
“The clients at the Creative Centre all have special needs and what they do at the centre might just be the only bright spark they have in their lives. You have to see the positives in everything you do. This job provides me with the satisfaction that the people who come here are not living on the sidelines of society, but are getting in there and doing the best they can. This is not a dress rehearsal, you only live once.”
Harkness has been in the job for a week and he gives full credit to the staff he works with and the clientele he works for.
In spite of the fact that he misses his family and friends back in New Zealand and the expansiveness of NZ in comparison to the ‘smallness’ of the island, he believes that while he is here, he can make a difference.
“I hope I bring in a bit of flexibility and I meet the expectations of my employer, the Ministry of Education and that I help in enriching the lives of the students. We have a lot of support from the community here and I hope this continues. The staff here and the clients do an amazing job. All credit to them.”
Harkness – who also celebrated his birthday yesterday – is living in Cook Islands with his daughter Kelly Pick – and when he is not helping the Creative Centre students realise their full potential he enjoys gardening.