Study Abroad

The Year of Children in the Garden: Internships in New Zealand

A group of pink-flecked orchids at the Wellington Botanic Gardens

Kaia Desai Fihn will be HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program this spring semester. Kaia is a junior majoring in History and minoring in Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. You can read Kaia’s previous post here.

Internships sites across Wellington

by Kaia Desai Finn

Wellington has easily become home for us, despite the wind and rain of New Zealand’s winter season. One sunny day here is worth ten “dreadful” ones! Even the miserable days have an unexpected charm to them. This bustling, compact city is driven by a vibrant art scene, and encompasses a waterfront boardwalk, sandy beaches, a working harbor and colorful timber houses that line the surrounding hills. Unpacking our bags and settling in after six weeks on the road was definitely comforting. Even more comforting was the welcoming bed and good night’s sleep we had been craving! Our first week was packed with getting to know our host families and becoming acquainted with our internship positions. We have class on Mondays and Fridays and work at our internship sites on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Our main focus during our time in Wellington is our internships and independent study projects.

Our internships sites were dispersed across Wellington, with varying focuses. Students worked for the Green Party, the Regional Council, Otari School, Zealandia, Conscious Consumers, NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research), and WorkerBe Oasis. A couple of students volunteered to share a description of their internship position to give you all an idea of the variety of work we have been involved in!

Ellie, Conscious Consumers:

“You can just consider me the queen of spreadsheets because that’s mainly what I’ve been doing. Besides that I’ve been doing a lot of app testing to improve usage of the Conscious Consumers app, and filling out future business partners’ information to make it easier for the sales team to get in contact with the decision makers of these companies. Conscious Consumers is a business that provides a way for consumers to show businesses they patronize what they’re passionate about and what issues they’re concerned with. Businesses are able to see their consumers’ values and begin to change how they run their company, whether it be composting extra food, recycling, offering fair trade products, offering discounts to customers that bring their own containers, or offering biodegradable packaging.”

Arielle, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA):

“As an environmental science major with an interest in marine biology, I was really excited to work with some of New Zealand’s top scientists. I worked in the zooplankton department with Dr. Moira Decima, an Argentinian zooplankton ecologist who focuses on food web ecology. In 2015, she took two trips to the Chatham rise and collected hundreds of zooplankton samples. My main job was to scan these samples in a machine called a Zooscan and then categorize them with a program called Plankton ID. With these scans, Moira is planning on looking at the density of plankton present as well as the diversity of species. Since the Chatham Rise is extremely biologically productive and New Zealand’s most important fishing ground, ecologists find it an interesting area to study. Through my internship, I learned a lot about phyto and zooplankton and the integral role they play in both food chains and the long term sequestration of carbon into the depths of the ocean.”

Garrett, WorkerBe Oasis:

“The art of making food come out of the ground is lost to many people in developed countries today.  Especially for those of us who live in cities, green spaces dedicated to cultivating crops can be few and far between.  My internship organization, WorkerBe Oasis, has created a productive 30-bed farm in the heart of Newtown, Wellington. This is where I have spent most of my internship hours. The feeling of working with soils, rich and poor, turning composts, old and new, and ultimately giving the final product away, is fulfilling beyond my original hopes. WorkerBe collects food waste from around Newtown (on bicycle trailers) and eventually puts the finished compost in their beds. They then give half of their harvest to charity which feeds needy families. Diverting waste from landfill and using the nutrients to feed those who need it most; it’s so logical it’s almost mind-blowing. I’m glad I got to spend time with these folks, and I wish them the best.”

It’s Kaia again. I work for the education team of the Wellington Botanic Garden. The education team consists of two people: me and my supervisor. Every morning, all of the Botanic Gardens employees met in the main office for morning tea, hot-cross-buns, and the newspaper’s 5-minute quiz. This was something I always looked forward to. I even correctly answered a couple of questions! The Wellington Botanic Garden is opening a Children’s Garden, so the theme of 2017 is the “Year of Children in the Garden.” Throughout my internship, we looked for ways of promoting this theme.

Two women stand on opposite sides of a massive tree, framed by its low-hanging branches.

Me and my supervisor.

The main objective of my internship was to create a brochure for one of the garden trails (the Pukatea Bush Walk) so that teachers could take school groups to the garden for an interactive, engaging, and educational activity. The trail traces through native forest. I picked out 13 points of interest on the trail, all of which were native plants and trees.  I did a fair amount of research on these plants and trees, focusing particularly on the traditional Māori uses of them. The values of the Children’s Garden are construction, fiber, food and medicine, and so I focused on the constructive, fiber, nutritional and medicinal qualities of the plants and trees of interest. This was an important aspect of the brochure, for although anyone can pick it up and follow the guide, it allows kids, in particular, to identify the plants and trees of New Zealand forests and understand how they are used.

The goal of the Children’s Garden, when it opens in September, is to interactively show children how a plant or tree gets from goes from growing in the dirt to sitting on their fork (or holding up the walls of their house, or bringing down their fever). Since the Children’s Garden is currently under construction, creating a brochure allows the theme of Children in the Garden to be further promoted until the Children’s Garden opens.

A lush group of birds of paradise plants and other red and orange flowers.

The view from my office. 

On my second day on the job, I was informed that 85 school children would be visiting the Botanic Garden for an educational program. Since the education team consists of only me and my supervisor, we had our hands full! Luckily, we had parent volunteers and teachers present as well. We prepared a rotational program, where the 85 kids were split into five groups and had five different activities to complete in rotation. I facilitated a pollen game for the kids because they are learning about bees. I learned a lot about bees myself while preparing to lead this game. Throughout the course of internship, I had the opportunity to assist many more educational programs. I helped children plant in the garden, use their senses when walking through the garden, and feed the ducks at the pond. Most of the children I worked with were between ages three and eight.

I also had the opportunity to visit other locations with similar focuses. My supervisor arranged for me to visit Otari-Wilton’s Bush to help out with their team. Otari-Wilton’s Bush is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants. I had the opportunity to help with some landscaping and maintenance at this site. Meeting a new team, getting my hands dirty, and a change of scenery were all perks to this visit.

In addition to this, I coordinated with the HECUA intern and his supervisor at Zealandia, an eco-sanctuary in Wellington, to participate in some of their educational programs. Not only did I help with visits to primary schools or school groups that came to Zealandia, I also had the opportunity to assist with the work of the eco-sanctuary. For instance, I helped clean kaka bird nest boxes so that they would be prepared for the next nesting season, unscrewing wood panels and using an eco-friendly disinfectant to clean the inside of the nest boxes. I accompanied the Zealandia intern and his supervisor on a walk through Victoria University campus to clear and reset rat traps. This, of course, was unsettling and troubling. I was a conservationist for the day, which here in New Zealand often means killing one species to save another.  I spent three total days at Zealandia. While there, I had a lot of time to explore, catching sight and listening to the songs of rare native birds. After being a part of and witnessing the success of the efforts Zealandia promotes, I was much more accepting of the work conservationists undertake.

A HECUA student stands in a field of green grass, next to a small purplish bird with a rounded beak. He's pointing at the bird excitedly.

HECUA student Ian (intern at Zealandia) and a new friend.

On another day, I had the chance to help organize an event at the Bond Street Community Garden to attract participation in community gardening and get more kids involved! With the values of the Children’s Garden at heart, I came up with the idea of a “Gumboot Garden” to help enhance children’s participation. We provided the plants and soil and asked for the kids to bring old gumboots (rainboots), jars, pots, teacups or whatever they no longer had a use for at home. Our goal was to bring children’s attention to how these objects could be transformed into a home for a plant. This reinforced the importance of recycling and the idea that you can grow plants anywhere to children. At this event, I also helped re-plant the community garden. We were joined by people on their lunch breaks, pedestrians walking by and residents of nearby apartments. Though we could have had a better turnout, it was nonetheless a great event for the community and helped polish my skills on event organization.

Throughout the extent of my internship I had a couple of minor tasks to work on as well. I created some letterbox scavenger hunt prompts for kids as well as a matching game that focused on medical symptoms and their medicinal plant cures. One of my favorite tasks was completing a medicinal plant list. This Excel spreadsheet included all of the medicinal plants in the Botanic Garden. My assignment was to research all of the medicinal uses and what parts of the plant are used. This was a big task, but it really inspired me to include more sustainable methods of medicine back home in my garden!

On my last day, we toured the construction site of the Children’s Garden. This was significant because it allowed me to envision what all of my hard work was going towards. Seeing the potential of the Children’s Garden and all of the educational outlets it incorporated gave me immense hope for future generations. Learning about horticulture, sustainability and the vital role plants play in our lives is critical for our planet. Touring the Children’s Garden made it clear that children will have the tools necessary to understand how to keep our planet beautiful and how humans can be more sustainable! I am quite glad this perk was saved for my last day because it greatly expanded the importance of my hard work. Knowing that my work on the brochure will be used by people who visit the Botanic Gardens is extremely rewarding.

A young woman with long blonde hair sits on a wooden bench, surrounded by greenery.

Enjoying the last few days at my internship. 

Though my time at my internship has come to close, my work there will continue on. I never anticipated working in a botanic garden because I did not believe I had the skills or knowledge necessary. However, that was one of the main reasons I was attracted to this internship opportunity. In the short time I worked at the Wellington Botanic Garden, I learned more than I could have ever imagined about New Zealand’s native plants and trees. I am now highly inspired to learn more about the native species present in my home country. Ultimately, learning about trees has been the bee’s knees!

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