Leading New Zealand Stage Performers, a ‘big heart’, Rushie and a GOLDENHORSE get together to “‘take it to Fiji”

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 3:04 pm in

When legendary All Black winger and the man universally recognised as the best rugby ’sevens’ player ever – and general ‘good guy’ – Eric Rush has something to say, people take notice. Here’s what he thinks about Tim Manning, one of New Zealand and the South Pacific’s top property developers:       “The man has a big heart. He is obviously successful, but has managed to still be a good bloke.”

It takes one to know one, it seems. ‘Rushie’, as he is widely known on national TV programmes and in the  New Zealand business scene, points out that he should acknowledge that he and Manning have a business relationship in Pacific Islands Partnership, although that must not be seen as the reason for his comments. Their first joint project back in 2006 was to develop a resort on Viti Levu.

“The reason I got involved with Tim in developing Fijian property and selling islands is that he has the right approach – putting something back into the community. That’s what I believe in too.”

I had just learnt from Annie Hensby, the one-time teacher and now impresario behind the unique and highly-creative “Performers4Poverty”, that the Takapuna-based property developer had been invited to be a trustee of her registered charitable trust and poverty relief agency, working in remote villages in Fiji. Given the recent political fuss between the New Zealand government and the Fijian leadership – virtually totally ignored and regarded as irrelevant by Kiwis and Fijians alike – I wanted to get the views of people like Rush, who really know what is happening ‘on the ground’ in the islands.

Annie herself is fast becoming an expert on these issues as her growing legion of performers creates excitement and generates thousands of goodwill dollars that are having a significant impact in the villages – especially on the remotest islands. Her latest project – a “Night of Comedy” – played to a packed house at the Classic Comedy Club, in downtown Auckland, with the venue owners, and the five starring comedians not charging a cent – meaning that a number of schools and clinics will receive much needed supplies, books, clothing, shoes and toys, not to mention sports equipment, stationery and other basic items that they have done without until Performers4Poverty came into their lives.

“Best of all is the toys we are getting. It’s hard to imagine and not right that any child has not owned a toy right up to the age of 10 and even more. Toys are not only comforting and stimulating, the stuff that we have been getting is highly educational too,” notes the former teacher.

And there was a further fillip for the much-needed project – Reef Shipping  Lines has offered free container shipping to Fiji. Annie had other offers on the transport side too, reinforcing her feeling that her mini version of Sir Bob Geldoff and Bono’s ‘War on Poverty’ now really has a full head of steam.

Tim Manning has been fantastic for us as the major sponsor. And it’s not just the money he has so generously given either. He and his team meet with us regularly and advise us on legal, financial, organisational and other key areas, so that our efforts are more efficient in achieving our goals,” says the Blockhouse Bay single mum, who heads up Purple Productions when she’s not focused on Fiji’s youngsters.

Christie McDonald, Manning’s Fiji manager, has also been key in arranging reliable and suitable barges to get the four tonnes of aid, raised via nearly 20 free concerts, shows and appeals, to the very remotest points in the Fijian archipelago. “That was priceless too,” adds Hensby.

So far Performers4Poverty have provided relief supplies to the children of seven villages in the Tailevu district of the main Fiji island, Viti Levu, and the Wainunu district on Vanua Levu.

“We are a registered charitable trust that supports children living in severely poverty stricken villages in rural Fiji. We have been dubbed a “Home-grown version of ‘Make Poverty History’” by the New Zealand Herald. On New Year’s Day, 2007, Tim paid for my Fiji-born partner, Kavai Velavela and I to arrive in that country with an enormous quantity of donated goods – all raised by generous and committed NZ performing artists donating their time to perform in Auckland schools. Tim also covered all our costs, such as truck hire, accommodation, meals, transport etc. He was concerned that the goods reached the kids they were intended for and felt that was the best way,” Ms Hensby recalls.

What started as a spontaneous gesture has turned into a serious relief and growth project. The “Gift Box” project, where classes gather items in a box to deliver to an individual child … A “Happy and Healthy” project which encourages people to donate health and first aid items and the “Save a School” project, which collects old resources, books, furniture and office equipment from schools in NZ and delivers them to severely under resourced schools in the Pacific Islands, have all been added in months – as the Performers4Poverty really take-off.

Annie(45), a Gemini, who lists Mother Theresa and Gandhi as her inspiration, has been overwhelmed by household names like New Zealand’s premier performing group, GOLDENHORSE, MC T.R.E.Y , the Plops, Mark Weir, Ishtar and others all lining up to help.

Her biggest short-term problem is where to store the growing mountain of material. “Yikes! We are getting so many items donated for the coming trip that we haven’t got space for them all. Have you got a garage? Spare room? Storage locker? Unused truck or caravan? Anything? We have boxes of books, clothes, toys and shoes to store and we have a school waiting for us to collect classroom furniture too!”

What’s the forthcoming attraction? A Mid-Winter Christmas in Tony’s Restaurant out in Henderson and an offer from an exciting youth group, “There’s More to Life”, who have offered to build her a special website to increase the reach of her efforts.

“I believe, based on the efforts and enthusiasm I have seen from Annie and Kavai, this cause will be ongoing and become a really influential and worthwhile charity,” reckons TT Manning. “I have offered them my guidance and support going forward, harnessing their energy and drive to help those truly needy kids. Fiji and its people are very close to my heart.”

Those Fijian kids will be watching and waiting for the next ship load.

The price of a beer can buy a first ever book for a 12 year old, the price of a packet of fags, a pair of shoes for a teen that’s never owned any … and for the price of a bucket of KFC, you could revolutionise life for a family in a remote, poverty stricken village … or for just a quarter of your weeks income, you could put books, paper, pens, posters and teaching resources into a school that currently has nothing!

Give a lot or a little, it all counts and it all helps those that cannot help themselves!

Fiji Kids

Annie Hensby — Performers 4 Poverty p4p@ihug.co.nz +6421 1179 324/ +64 9 828 5432