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Sir Graham Henry shares his heartfelt mission for Kiwi kids

Lizzie Marvelly, Sir Graham Henry and Antonia Prebble are teaming up to help level the playing field for New Zealand's children.

Dear New Zealand,

*I am nine years old. I live with my mum and brothers and sisters. There are nine of us in our house. When I started school this year, I didn’t have any books like my friends, but my teacher gave me spare books to use. I dream to play netball. My mum tries to save some of her money so we can play sports but she finds it hard. Mum tries her best to help us and take care of us.

I wish I can have toys for my birthday. We miss out sometimes but we are grateful for what we have.*

Dear New Zealand, please help kids like me.

At first glance, they’re an odd bunch. While it’s true that Sir Graham Henry, Antonia Prebble and Lizzie Marvelly don’t have that much in common when it comes to their chosen careers, the former All Black coach, Westside actress, and singer and social commentator have united for the Weekly for a cause that is extremely close to their hearts.

Coming together for our exclusive photo shoot for Variety, the Children’s Charity, there’s a lot of animated chat from the trio as they talk about their upcoming projects and involvement in Variety’s new campaign, Dear New Zealand, where the organisation has asked real Kiwi kids living in poverty to tell their stories in the form of letters, like the one at the top of this page.

Though Graham, Antonia and Lizzie all have exciting new ventures and roles coming up in the near future, they’ve taken some time out for the campaign, which aims to help the one in three children in New Zealand that are living in deprivation.

It’s a statistic which, quite frankly, really gets Graham’s goat.

“It’s our most embarrassing challenge in this country,” he tells with his trademark stern expression. “It’s shameful. We, as a country, need to do something about it.”

All three appear in videos, telling real children’s heart-breaking stories or sharing their ideas on how to fix child poverty, which you can see at the bottom of the page.

It’s the fact that so many children are going without the basics of a Kiwi childhood that almost leaves Lizzie in tears.

“Oh, man, the letters really do get to you,” she says. “They show the realities of growing up in hardship – it’s the kids whose parents can’t afford the fees for rugby or can’t afford the uniform, or the kid who can’t go to school camp and gets left behind. When we think of poverty, we have this idea of African children with their big swollen bellies – which is a complete tragedy of its own – but we live in a developed nation. It’s not good enough.”

For Antonia, who has just arrived back into the country after attending good friend and former Outrageous Fortune co-star Siobhan Marshall’s wedding in Fiji, it was the memories of her own feelings of school-yard awkwardness that propelled her to act.

“When I was a kid, I hated being different,” she remembers, shaking her head.

Antonia Prebble

“I just wanted to be the same as everyone else. I hated my name, because there was no-one else called Antonia. I didn’t want to stick out in any way. And if you can’t afford to go on camps and that kind of thing, then that would be awful. Those feelings of being excluded and embarrassed wouldn’t go away in a hurry.”

“Exactly,” Lizzie agrees. “It’s hard enough trying to fit in as a teenager as it is!”

While the trio are some of the lucky ones and haven’t experienced poverty first-hand, all three have encountered it.

Lizzie, who grew up in Rotorua, recalls some of her classmates at primary school who had to rifle through the rubbish bins at lunchtime to find some food.

“It sounds dramatic, but literally, that’s what happened,” she says. “Or they had no lunch, so they’d steal some, or you’d see teachers march kids to the staffroom, just to give them a jam sandwich. I think that’s what’s inspired me, from the beginning, to help kids.”

Lizzie Marvelly

Antonia also remembers a friend at school who couldn’t come on camp with everyone else, and a girl who used to get dropped off at her house before school so Antonia’s parents could give her breakfast.

“I remember it was always a bit awkward for the girl and her parents, but better to be slightly awkward with breakfast, than not have any at all,” she says. “Her parents were doing their best.”

And Graham is sure that there have been many All Blacks and other elite sportspeople who have gone through the exact same hardships.

“For sure, there is,” he says. “Maybe that adds to their determination to get better.”

Now that he’s retired, Graham has the time to be involved in many different charities, including the Plunket Foundation, of which he’s on the board, as well as Variety. In fact, he’s probably busier now than he was when he was coaching the boys in black.

“I like the variety of everything – I do people development, in high-performance environments, and consulting. And a bit of speaking. My wife Raewyn looks at me occasionally and says, ‘Hmm, you’re very busy!’

“But you do feel an obligation to some extent. I’m a Sir… that was earnt by other people, by Richie [McCaw] and his team. I was a resource. So I feel a duty to help New Zealand.”

Graham is in the process of organising a gala lunch for Plunket later in the year, where Richie, Gemma Flynn, Brendon McCullum and Toni Street will all be speaking, while Lizzie will be singing.

He’s also just joined the Vodafone Warriors’ new advisory board – something he’s hugely excited by – and has earmarked some time over the summer for the simple things, such as fishing off the kayak at Waiheke Island.

Sir Graham Henry

The prospect of a Kiwi summer also has Antonia excited, after years of being overseas.

“We’ll be filming Westside season three,” she says with a huge grin. “I still live in New Zealand, but it’s just happened that I’ve been in Australia for three months, and then the United States for three months for the last few years. But I love New Zealand; I’m very committed to New Zealand.”

Meanwhile, Lizzie is midway through her 10 Years tour, celebrating a decade in the music industry, and is the editor of Villiainesse, a website aimed at young women. Both of these passions started at school, she tells.

“I remember it was the extracurricular stuff I looked forward to most at school – it was speech and drama for me. I just want the same for every other Kiwi kid. And these kids that Variety help – it’s not their fault. They’re amazing kids, who soldier on, and they just want to be the best they can be.”

To find out more about Variety and the Dear New Zealand campaign, visit variety.org.nz.


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