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Farm shirts and wild adventures

A renowned Kiwi entrepreneur and adventurer has a heartfelt message for the flood-weary Tinui community: “You’re not forgotten, you’re not alone, and New Zealand still cares.”

Davey Hughes, author, motivational speaker, globe-trotting hunter and founder of the internationally celebrated outdoor clothing company Swazi Apparel, paid a visit to Tinui School last week – bearing a car-load of gifts, plus some “educational and entertaining” stories, and a few treasures sourced from his capers in the wilderness.

On behalf of Swazi, Hughes presented each of the school’s 43 pupils with a fleece long-sleeved farm shirt and pair of fleece pants. The children were also treated to thrilling tales from Hughes’ adventures in Alaska, Africa and the Arctic Circle – complete with “conversation starters”, such as a grizzly bear skin and narwhal tooth.

For both staff and pupils, Hughes’ and Swazi’s donation was “beautifully timed”. Since its building was badly damaged during Cyclone Gabrielle, the school has been running out of a temporary set-up at the nearby Community Hall and Playgroup – older buildings and a draftier learning environment in a Wairarapa winter.

Swazi, based in Levin, has supported various rural schools and communities hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle – many of which are still struggling to return to a regular routine five months on.

Hughes, now living in rural Carterton, was particularly touched by Tinui School’s plight and wanted to do something to help bolster the children’s spirits as they adjust to “a new normal”.

“Whenever there’s a disaster, there are a lot of offers of help within the first month or two – but, eventually, that dwindles away,” he said.

“To the outside world, life in Tinui has gone back to normal – but that’s definitely not the case, and it’ll be a long time before the kids can go back to their old school building. Many families have been affected and those effects will no doubt be felt for years.

“Obviously, as a clothing company we can’t help fix fences and move hillsides – but we could at least bring some warmth and cheer. We wanted to send a message to the affected regions: We haven’t forgotten about you, people outside of your community still care for you, and you’re not alone.”

Hughes founded Swazi in 1994 – and the manufacturer and retailer has become well-loved overseas for its hard-wearing farming and hunting apparel.

Hughes himself does regular speaking tours about his intrepid journeys – which include hunting bear, moose and mountain lion in the Canadian back-country, and walking the length of the African continent – and conservation projects, including a Siberian tiger rescue project and campaign to end elephant poaching.

Tinui School teacher Mieke Couling said the pupils were “enthralled” by Hughes’ adventure stories and receptive to his overall message of respect and kindness to the planet.

Poignantly, he also shared his experience of living through the Wahine storm of 1968, in which one of his school classrooms was “entirely wiped out”.

“He shared that the kids had to move into a hall next door while the school was rebuilt. They didn’t love it – it was cold, and noisy, and there were always people coming and going,” Couling said.

“But something good came out of it – the kids really bonded throughout the experience, and a lot of them are still friends today.

“He really related to our kids and empathised with them.”

Couling said the children were “thrilled” with their new clothes, which they will “wear proudly down on the farm”.

“It was beautifully timed as well – it is getting a lot colder out here, so the extra layers will definitely come in handy.

“It was such a supportive gesture. It feels good to know our school is still acknowledged and noticed.”

As well as supporting cyclone-affected communities, Swazi makes regular clothing donations to charitable organisations — including to the Featherston, Carterton and Masterton foodbanks, and the Wairarapa Women’s Refuge.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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