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Mayoral Candidate Efeso Collins came to my ammis house for chats and food; why does it matter? | Suveen Walgampola

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ශ්‍රී LankaNZ is a free distributed Sri Lankan Community Newspaper that aims to reach a Sri Lankan population of over 18,000 all over New Zealand. The demand for entertainment in literacy media itself gave birth to ශ්‍රී LankaNZ

For those who don’t know, Efeso Collins is a leading mayoral candidate for Tamaki Makerau, so is currently doing engagements with the communities he wishes to be elected to represent.

Political engagements are spaces where those in positions of power get to hear straight from the community. The setting is not often at spots such as ammis house.

Often with political engagements, you would have a designated engagement day and have to go to a community hall at some absurd time when most people with full-time work and families to support would not be able to make it. Discussions are had, and decisions are made on this feedback that affects everyone, especially those unable to join these meetings.

I personally am standing for election in the Albert-Eden Local Board and have sat in a few of these local political engagement meetings. The one observation is always the lack of diversity within these spaces that wield quite a lot of power.

But on a sunny Sunday afternoon, around 50 members of the Sri Lankan community have gathered at ammis place with fresh Sri Lankan food prepared by close family friends.

It felt different but familiar as I was surrounded by uncles and aunties who have known me since I could barely walk, causing trouble wherever I went. Now they are sitting around a potential mayor and me, a candidate for the local board providing their thoughts and feedback on what they want to see.

This is a significant shift for a few different reasons. Breaking down the barriers where candidates can engage directly with the community with candidates consulting in their spaces rather than making them come to their own. If you are going to engage in the Sri Lankan community, of course, it should be at someone’s house with food, as that’s pretty much what we do every weekend.

Another example of this was during a consultation at Windmill park in Epsom. Auckland Council set up a consultation tent in the park, and around 40 Sri Lankans played a cricket tournament in the oval area. A spectacular site; however, some residents who came to the consultation thought tennis ball cricket was a safety hazard to their properties, the music was disruptive, and no one else can use the park. From their point of view, the cricket ground needed to be scrapped as it is essentially attracting undesirables into their community who, and I quote, “Do not live in this area anyway” – not like they asked.

In the traditional council consultation, those voices are the loudest and only ones that get heard and actioned through council-funded development. But something different happened this time. Luckily I knew the boys playing cricket and, in our native tongue, convinced each to line up for a round of facilitated consultation. Council workers gathering their feedback, our community utilising the parks services now had their say on its future development. Many of them had families, so wished to have facilities to allow them to bring their kids while they play their cricket tournaments. 

Overall, these local elections are not that far away. With a voter turnout usually at 30%, we need to do more within our communities to ensure we are active participants in our democracy. Because as we see in the two examples above, with the right people with connections to the community, you can facilitate engagements that are simply not possible through traditional local council approaches and be able to create better outcomes for all communities that call Aotearoa home. 


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