They are taking part in a weeklong inaugural programme run by non-government organisations, the Korero o te 'Orau, Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori, and Ruatonga Mapu and supported by the Ministry of Agriculture through the Ridge 2 Reef Project.
In the programme which started on Monday and will end tomorrow, the children are taking part in various activities from planting taro, fishing, umu preparation to weaving.
Programme coordinator Dr Teina Rongo, who is also the founder of Korero o te 'Orau and chairman of Ruatonga Mapu, said the project underlines ways to reconnect the people to the land.
“As we move into more developed and westernised society, we see a disconnect from all these resources and as a result we don’t appreciate these resources and environment that we have,” Rongo said.
“We see what’s happening to our wetlands, it’s being filled with developments. It’s not been valued anymore so by having people to plant again and targeting the young ones because they are future leaders and will make decisions on this important habitat, we are getting them to understand and appreciate this environment and these habitats.”
Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori co-founder Jackie Tuara said the vision of the programme was to give children the opportunity to experience what generations before them relied on.
She said it was an opportunity to educate children about all aspects of the Cook Islands culture and to instill in them the cultural identity.
“We hope to instill in our children an understanding of and commitment to a duty of kaitiakitanga (stewardship), that it is their duty (as they grow to adulthood) to care for and protect their/our culture and environment,” Tuara said.
“In different ways, each programme is concerned with sustainability, in its human, spiritual, cultural and environmental dimensions.
“At the heart of our Maori beliefs is the inseparable connectivity of individual and community well-being, connected by language, arts, culture, environment, land, sea, history and genealogy.
“We have tried to include as many different aspects of each of these important parts of our culture into this one week long programme. So far it has been amazing.”
Ministry of Agriculture’s Brian Tairea was pleased with the huge turnout and interest from the children willing to learn about the traditional way of life.
“It’s (farming and other activities) a tradition going for so many generations and now we are losing it. With the initiative from Teina and the other partners in getting the students here for holiday, we can connect them to the grassroots and make them understand why we are practicing the kind of methods in terms of sustainability of our country,” Tairea said.
“These activities can give them some skills to fall back to in the future and I’m hoping we can continue this kind of programme next year and years to come.”
The organisers of the programme thanked the Bank of Cook Islands, Bluesky and Rongohiva for their support as well the aunties for lending marquees, and the volunteers for their time.
“We hope this is the start of a movement getting families back to traditional ways which are more sustainable and also part of a healthier lifestyle,” Dr Rongo added.
Monday – Pa'i taro at Avatiu (land space of John and Nono Henry). Afternoon session was with Sunshine George, learning how to weave baskets for the umu on Friday and a variety of other crafts.
Tuesday – Trip to Takuvaine Valley to learn about the terraced pa’i taro and biodiversity with Dr Teina Rongo. Landowners Celine Dyer and Liam Kokaua (who are also Korero members) led the children through where they are planting and working.
Wednesday – Back to Avatiu to finish off the pa'i taro. Afternoon session include catching chickens for the umu on Friday. Afternoon activities will be ei making, and sorting gear for fishing tomorrow (weather permitting).
Thursday – Fishing on the reef and learning about the reef environment with Dr Rongo.
Friday – Umu preparation.
Korero o te 'Orau – focuses on environmental and indigenous issues; Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori – Cook Islands culture based school to teach Cook Islands children about their own culture. Founders are Jackie Tuara-Newnham and Tepaeru Herrmann; Ruatonga Mapu – church youth group, which Dr Teina Rongo is the chairman of and some of the activities will be taking place on their lands.