Smelter gives $90k lifeline

New Zealand's Aluminium Smelter chief executive Stew Hamilton celebrates Rio Tinto's donation with Koha Kai founder Janice Lee in Invercargill on Monday.

A SIZABLE donation will help a Southland initiative to continue encouraging people living with disabilities to gain independence.

Rio Tinto, which owned New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) at Tiwai Point, announced on Monday the $90,000 donation to Koha Kai as part of its Covid-19 relief package to support communities affected by the pandemic.

NZAS chief executive Stew Hamilton and smelter staff were welcomed to Te Wharekura o Arowhenua Koha Kai — where Koha Kai ran a training kitchen and a vegetable garden — with a mihi whakatau.

Koha Kai trainee Rose Zyskowski helps to prepare a fruit crumble.

During the visit, the Tiwai Point crew was able to see and understand the work Koha Kai did in the community, providing opportunities for vulnerable adults to learn new skills and engage in meaningful work.

Mr Hamilton said the donation was to acknowledge the important role the organisation had in the community.

This was especially evident during the Covid-19 lockdown when the Koha Kai team cooked 400 meals a day which were distributed by community health and social service providers to residents in need.

“Koha Kai has touched many lives during lockdown and we are proud to help that work to continue and grow,” Mr Hamilton said.

“By developing new skills and feeding their community, the students at Koha Kai gain a strong sense of pride in their contribution.”

Koha Kai founder Janice Lee was grateful for the donation and said it would support its vocational and training programmes through 2021 and beyond.

“This money enables the plans we have for updating and expanding our teaching programmes into the community.

“We knew what we wanted to do and achieve but weren’t sure how or when… we have certainty for our plan for this year.”

Last week, Community Trust South and Koha Kai released the findings of an external evaluation commissioned to identify and document the outcomes associated with the organisation.

Since its inception, 63 trainees and 31 volunteers had been involved in Koha Kai.

The document states the greatest impact is on Koha Kai’s trainees who felt an improvement in their life satisfaction, well-being and social connections.

About 47% of trainees who exited Koha Kai secured external employment.

“There is robust evidence that Koha Kai is having a major positive impact on the lives of trainees and their whanau.”