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Life in a pandemic

Inspiring stories of how disabled and autistic members of New Zealand's “team of five million” coped during the Covid-19 lockdown have been put into print, with major input from Tairawhiti residents.

Entitled Life in a Pandemic, the book was published by Life Unlimited and funded by the Ministry of Health and the Bryan Perry Charitable Trust and shows how people with disabilities got through the Level 4 lockdown.

“Some bonded, some were lonely and bored, some turned to technology while others found solace in their culture and ancestral lands,” Life Unlimited chief executive Megan Thomas said.

At the official book launch in Gisborne this week, she said the aim of the book had been to let disabled and autistic people share their lockdown stories and for others to learn from their “intimate and powerful” stories.

“We need to learn from the unique situation of lockdown and ensure it is reflected in our day-to-day disabilities support system.”

Contributor Millie Matahiki immersed herself in her culture during lockdown. Pictured on the front cover in front of Nick Tupara's Te Maro sculpture on Titirangi, she gave special thanks to Mr Tupara.

“That sculpture really means a lot to me and to my ancestors and my culture.”

Isolating and staying in a bubble was particularly hard during lockdown, Millie said.

Gisborne writers Hayley Redpath and Kristine Walsh helped capture the stories from seven Gisborne contributors.

“Like many people during lockdown, Hayley and I talked about really focusing on projects we value and working on Life In A Pandemic ticked all of those boxes,” former Gisborne Herald deputy chief reporter and arts editor Walsh said.

“For many of our subjects, just getting through a normal day takes a huge amount of effort and determination so to learn what they experienced and how they coped during challenging circumstances was a big eye-opener.

“Through their generosity and openheartedness we were able to bear witness to optimism and resilience that, for me anyway, remains a source of inspiration every single day.”

Redpath, also a former print journalist, said writing stories about other people's lives was a gift not to be taken lightly.

“All of us, not just those in the book, were forced to face up to our vulnerabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic response,” she said.

“After lockdown, it was a privilege to be invited into the homes of Gisborne whanau and hear about the positive lessons learned during that time.”

She also paid credit to photographer Alan Gibson for his approach to taking the photos.

For more than 20 years, four-time Media Awards Photographer of the Year Gibson has drawn on his passion and talent for visual storytelling to capture world events for readers of The New Zealand Herald.

“Without his stunning images, including the cover, the book wouldn't have the impact it does,” said Redpath.

Speaking at the book launch, Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said the stories “make my heart go warm” and she urged anyone with disabilities to raise any accessibility issues with the district council.

THEIR STORIES: Among those to feature in the book Life In A Pandemic launched this week in Gisborne are local people (from left) Stewart Colin John (CJ) Harford, Patsy Matete, Shannon Thompson, Moana Rewi, Pip Parkes and Millie Matahiki, who is on the front cover. Picture by Paul Rickard