Our people Desi Lowe

Our people Desi Lowe

by Charli Cox

Meet Desi, a long-time volunteer who carves out time for our community in addition to her role at Te Tāpui Atawhai - The Auckland City Mission focused on kai sovereignty. Here we discuss her community work and why we all need to get uncomfortable about being comfortable in their privilege.

How have the past eighteen months been for you?

Disheartening. Seeing more and more people struggling to have their basic needs and human rights met makes me mad, sad, and sometimes hopeless to be completely honest.  There is a lack of awareness on the existence and complexity of poverty and hence still so much stigma around people that seek help from social services.  A good place to start for anyone to begin to understand how deep, dark and complex poverty is...is to acknowledge their own privilege. That's where I started.  

What is your day job or your typical day-to-day?

I work in a project role at Te Tāpui Atawhai - The Auckland City Mission.  My focus right now is supporting the development of māra kai (food gardens) across our food service and three of our residential services that provide transitional or permanent housing.  The vision for our māra kai is to create spaces that foster human connection, knowledge sharing, storytelling, life skill development, connection to the whenua, wellbeing and kai sovereignty. Kai sovereignty is about giving people power to source and grow their own kai, enabling self-sufficiency and a sustainable means to wellbeing – this is an important part of decolonisation. 

Like with any project role, my day-to-day differs but includes looking for resources to develop our gardens, watering the garden and other garden tasks, composting, delegating garden duties, talking to whānau using our services, project planning, seeking help from garden experts, hui with colleagues and external agencies, visiting other community gardens, upskilling on my gardening knowledge, emails, taking photos and videos of the mahi being done, writing briefs and proposals, etc etc.  I love being in a role that provides diversity and is centred on creating mana-enhancing and sustainable opportunities for people in need.

How has your community work influenced your outlook on life?

It has amplified what my parents instilled in me - to go out of your way to help people and your community, be it through time or money.  It has also slapped me in the face and awakened me to the privilege I was born into.  I am very blessed to have been raised in a whānau that had more than enough money, kai, shelter and cars (my Dad was a car fanatic) to look after a village and my parents did just that on top of having six tamariki of their own. Realising how much privilege I have come from and seeing and hearing day to day of the hardships so many people face, I am deeply committed to devoting my efforts whether that be in my mahi or personal life to causes that are genuine about helping people in need and caring for the environment. This is my purpose in life. 

What positive changes have you seen come through the communities where you volunteer?

It is good to see more community mahi centred on what whānau actually want and need versus what services think are best for them. It is pointless otherwise.

What does Aotearoa, the world, need more of right now?

Humans that are willing to get uncomfortable about being comfortable in their privilege.

More commitment and action towards decolonisation, including more opportunities for indigenous and people of colour to have a voice, be heard and be given real opportunities to make meaningful change.   

Organisations and or people out there doing the work? Who do we need to know about and support?

In addition to Charli, Founder of Koha Apparel, I want to acknowledge Kelly Francis who leads a kaupapa, Whenua Warrior. I do not know her personally, nor have I worked with her but know of the incredible and widespread support she is giving to many whānau in need across Tāmaki Makaurau to set up their own māra kai at home.

What gives you hope for the future?

Seeing more local, community led, grass roots movements that are about people over profit. Hearing more uncomfortable and challenging kōrero in different spaces around colonisation, capitalism, indigenous peoples rights, and basic human rights.