Today we visited the Victory Community Center in Nelson, a fishing and timber town at the top end of the South Island of New Zealand. We heard from Penny Molnar, the center’s Be Well Nurse, about her work promoting health and well-being in the community. Penny has that solid, smart, cued-in, no-nonsense sort of personality that I associate with all of the best community health nurses I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in various parts of the world. The director of the center told us that having a nurse as a key staff member keeps them focused on the health implications of everything they do, from community and school fitness programs, to community gardens, to low-cost swimming lessons (there’s a high drowning rate in New Zealand), to fighting their city council’s plan to build a truck route where there’s now a bike path as well as fruit trees for the use of all the community members.
This pink bench that their school children’s groups have just completed near the community gardens is a Peace on Earthbench made out of ‘bottle bricks’ (plastic soda bottles stuffed full of soft inorganic landfill), covered with cob (a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and water). It’s part of the world-wide Peace on Earthbench Movement (POEM) started by Brennan Blazer Bird, a 25-year old ecological educator from the Bay Area in the U.S.. A positive U.S. export.
The idea behind the benches is to educate school children in sustainability concepts, to have a creative, community-building activity that results in a useful structure for the community to use. The Victory Center’s version of the bench includes an open BBQ pit and a covered area to store the kindling. So clever!