Educator honoured for literacy work

    Invercargill educator Helen Campbell, who received Rotary's highest honour Paul Harris Fellowship.

    IN Helen Campbell’s living room, there is a teaching certificate hanging on the wall.

    Hardly a surprise, when you are in the home of a trained educator.

    What comes as a surprise, is the certificate is not hers that of her great-grandmother Margaret Anne Waugh who graduated from the Otago Education Board Training College in 1900.

    Mrs Campbell’s family has always valued education so she has a genetic disposition, you could say, to continue the family tradition.

    While she said it was never “her calling”, she trained as a teacher, left for a while to have her family, then returned to the vocation in 1990.

    “It was a wonderful principal who encouraged me to become a resource teacher of reading (RTR),” she said.

    It was then the passion was born.

    “I really wanted to work with children who were experiencing difficulties to give them a break, give them a chance.”

    She learned valuable lessons in the training she received – the most important, not to put a label on a child.

    “You may have to go different paths to get the same outcome,” she said.

    Those paths would eventually lead to a place where a teacher could connect with a child and that was when the world was opened up and learning began.

    Often children who could not read were bullied at school, so teaching them to read was empowering them, they gained confidence and became more self assured and began to confide in people they trusted.

    “They’ve got to have a voice.”

    In 2009, the East Invercargill Rotary Club she is a member of was looking for a project to benefit the community.

    “Neil (Lewis) rang me up and said got any ideas to develop a project for literacy?’.

    “I said me 24 hours and I’ll come up with one’.”

    The project became The Literacy Starter Packs for 5-year-olds pack given to every new entrant when they start school in Southland.

    The packs come complete with magnetic letters, a whiteboard and a good story book, a library flyer and instructions for the parents.

    There are now 18,000 children who have been handed these packs in the 13 years since its inception.

    Recently, Mrs Campbell was awarded Rotary’s highest honour, a Paul Harris Fellowship, for her work on the project.

    It came as a complete surprise.

    “I can’t take shocks like that now. I sat frozen and I have no idea what they said after that.

    “My brain was munted, it was such a shock.”

    On this particular certificate which also hangs on her living room wall, it says, “in appreciation of tangible or significance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world”.

    It is not the first time she has been recognised for her work which spans more than 30 years.

    She was bestowed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literacy in 2012 and has written children’s books What is a Southlanderand More about Southlanders

    So what does she think her great-grandmother and forebears would make of what she had achieved in assisting children to read for more than three decades?

    “I just have a wonderful comfortable feeling now I’m on the same track as they walked in people to help them on their learning path.”