Rebecca Hamilton: On Giving Back as a Returner
Rebecca Hamilton has been living overseas since she was 15 years old. A Kiwi at heart, when Covid-19 hit she decided to make the move with her family back to New Zealand. With immense gratitude at being able to return and arriving before Kiwis had to pay for managed isolation, Rebecca set up a Give A Little campaign aiming to give back to Kiwi charities with what she would have paid in quarantine costs. We spoke to Rebecca about her campaign.
What’s your story? How long have you been away from New Zealand?
I left NZ at 15 years old, so it’s been a very long time! But my Mum has always lived here so there’s always been a connection and we were worried that we might not be able to see her again..
How does your experience of Covid-19 differ for you and your family between here and the United States?
We have four kids, ages 7, 5 and 3 year old twins. The kids primary school closed in March, and likewise with the preschool our twins were due to start. But my husband and I at least had the ability to work remotely. Between fulltime work and doing online schooling and general childcare with four kids we were exhausted, but at least we could keep ourselves safe – which is not the case for so many others in the U.S. The contrast with here though could not be greater. First there’s the obvious – our kids can go to school, they can leave the house, they can have playdates – in short, they can experience childhood again. Necessity had helped us convince ourselves that the kids were ok in the circumstances we were living under in DC, but we have seen them transform back into their fullest selves since getting out of quarantine. And for our twins, they had spent such a large chunk of their conscious lives just inside our house, with no social interaction outside our family.
The adjustment to life in NZ has been huge for them. When we first got out of quarantine they were totally overwhelmed by being in public spaces but they’re doing well now. My husband and I are sleep deprived because we’re working U.S. time zone hours, but it is a small price to pay. Then there’s a secondary impact, which is the sense of general safety that comes from feeling like you’re in a country where the government is actually trying to protect its population from Covid. Only once we were outside the U.S. did we fully appreciate the degree to which the Trump Administration has basically left the population to survive – or not – for themselves.
Can you tell us a bit about your Pay It Forward campaign? Why do you think it’s so important to give back to New Zealand?
Going through quarantine we were very conscious of the costs being borne by the NZ taxpayer, but even more than that we knew how much each and every Kiwi sacrificed in the initial lockdown to help get NZ to its current place as a global leader in responding to the pandemic. It didn’t feel right that our family would be reaping the benefits of those sacrifices without making any contribution of our own to NZ society. The Pay It Forward campaign is just one piece of this.
Not everyone returning will be able to make a financial contribution, but our hope is the campaign will catalyze returnees to think through the myriad ways, including non-financial, in which we can contribute. I’m sure there are thousands of other returnees out there who feel the kind of gratitude that we do, and I hope that if we can get the word out to them the campaign can become a vehicle for expressing that gratitude in a way that benefits NZ society. If even a fraction of returnees could donate then, as a group, we would be able to inject millions in charitable giving to the community.
How did you choose the charities you’ve dedicated the Pay It Forward campaign to?
There are so many worthy causes to support, so keeping it to three was tough. But we looked for well established charities whose work seemed particularly significant in the midst of Covid.
- WOMEN’S REFUGE – in recognition of the increased risks of domestic violence during lockdown;
- FOREST & BIRD – in recognition of the connection between environmental and public health; and
- KIDSCAN – in recognition of the disproportionate burden that the economic fallout from Covid-19 has placed on families that were already the most vulnerable.
If you want to get involved in the returnees’ campaign, Pay It Forward, you can find the Give A Little page here.