Combining education, social skills and environmentally friendly initiatives, OKE Charity is a business we are loving! The original name comes from the Maori word for the oak tree. OKE sets out to provide Kiwi kids with a unique and awesome experience to learn, by introducing productive gardens into schools in New Zealand.
Through ‘Growing A Future’ OKE deliver a garden to each school, enabling the kids, teachers and local community to get growing. The garden includes all that is required to make it sustainable; raised beds, greenhouse, seeds, composting solutions, kids tools, teacher tools and resources.
With plans to implement their initiative into upwards of ten primary schools in 2018, we were interested in hearing all about their business and what it is doing now and their plans for the future. Here at Ecomailbox, we admire people who make education their mission and particularly where they educate others by embracing the goodness of nature! OKE is teaching Kiwi kids new life and social skills, contributing to “growing mighty kids”!
We were lucky to have a chat with founder Paul Dickson, and here is what he had to say about OKE charity:
1) What was the inspiration behind the OKE charity and how did it come about?
The OKE Charity has evolved quite organically and we did things a little bit different. Back in 2012, I came up with the idea of the Head2Head Walk (which I’ll come back to later) and this fundraiser went on to create a charity. For the first couple of years we would hand out cheques from the funds received from the Head2Head Walk but then I realised that it wasn’t just money which was needed. The projects being funded needed experienced project management to get them running properly. The turning point was in 2014 when we funded Garden to Table into Papatoetoe West Primary but soon realised a garden was needed before this program could begin. So, we funded a whole new garden to be built as well. This was the first garden we built and set the tone for what OKEwould become. BTW, OKE is Maori for the oak tree and our tagline Growing Mighty Kids comes from the adage “from little acorns do mighty oaks grow”.
2) What are some of the exciting things that have happened with the OKE charity this year?
Our ambitious goal for 2017 was to get four school gardens built within the year. We almost did it, which is amazing, when you consider each school garden costs $10,000. In March, we built a garden at Bairds Mainfreight, in April we built Weymouth Primary, in August we built new garden beds for Dawson Primary (not a whole garden) and next week we’re building a garden at Manurewa Central Primary. We’ve really started to build an amazing network in the South Auckland community. We’ve also been working with computer science students to relaunch the OKE Head2Head Walk website. And last but by no means least, we’ve kicked off the development of an OKE Education Resource in the form of an augmented reality app, working with Conical Animation.
3) How do you go about living sustainably at work and at home?
We have a fruit and vegetable garden at home, which our two-year-old son Taylor loves to play in. We have our own Hungry Bin which gets through the food scraps and recycle what we can. It’s pretty cool to work with schools as the kids are always coming up with imaginative recycling ideas, which I can bring home and do with Taylor. I also started life in the automotive industry and have been intrigued by the development of the electric cars. One day we’ll be driving an electric car and that will be when I think we’ll be making a big difference.
4) What does OKE hope to achieve for the communities you work with?
The garden we built at Weymouth Primary School earlier this year really set the benchmark for what we want to do in terms of garden builds. This was essentially a community garden built within a school. We’re hopeful that the local elderly community will use the garden and transfer their knowledge to the kids. The ultimate goal is for the kids to pick up new life and social skills whilst in the garden, which will make them more social and give them a sense of worth in the community…growing mighty kids!
5) What would you like to see more of happening in your community?
Community gardens need to be seen as just as important as any other green space in the community i.e. parks, cycleways, sports fields. The gardens can really foster a community spirit and bring together people of all race, ethnicity, gender, disability, mindset, etc. Urban farms are taking off globally, as they’re seen as a rich source of mental/physical well-being, access to local food and the rise of healthy communities.
6) Where do you hope the OKE charity will be in 3 years time?
The next phase for OKE is to become a charitable trust. We then need to begin working on a social enterprise of one form or another to bring in a sustainable income. The OKE Squad will hopefully be an employed team of people pushing OKE to be the game changers in South Auckland.
7) How can our readers get involved with OKE? For example, we understand you have a fun-run fundraiser coming up! Can you let our readers know a little more about that and other options?
Yep, first and foremost we really need teams to register for the OKE Head2Head Walk which is taking place on the 11th/12th November 2017. The event is a 24hr relay around the Manukau Harbour. There are teams of five walkers, with each walker walking 25km each. As well as this fundraiser, we are looking for experienced game changers to join the OKE Squad and push the charity forward. And of course, all donations are greatly appreciated.
8) We love learning about companies and organisations doing good things for our environment and community. Can you give a shout out to a few?
We’re big fans of EcoWare and the amazing things they have managed to do in the short time frame which they have been around. We have had amazing support from Organic Edible Garden this year in giving OKE guidance of what to do in the garden but also physically helping Weymouth Primary school with getting started in their garden. AUT South Campus has been immense supporters of our work and they are actively engaged in the South Auckland community.
Good on Ya OKE Charity!