Kia ora: When meeting with Humanist members in Wellington and Napier, Alom Shaha, stressed the importance of Humanism being active in the community and effecting change for the better. University of Oregon, Professor Yong Zhao speaking with Auckland School Principals recently said, “All children need to be taught principles of creativity, problem solving and confidence. Mechanical jobs will be quickly gone, so humans need to become more human.”

Monthly meeting: Monday 1 August 6.30 pm

A Personal Journey from Christianity to Atheism

Jason Carruth was unfortunately unable to give his talk last month so we have re-scheduled it for this month. Jason will discuss how moved from a life with God to living without God. For 20 years, Jason lived life to the full within a Christian community but his understanding grew and changed. Jason writes about this on his webpage: thoughtcontrol.wordpress.com. This is an excerpt from this site:- “Digging deeper, from a sociological and anthropological perspective, faith probably finds its earliest origins in the concept of “over-detecting agency.” In the early days of Homo sapiens, somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 years ago, life was precarious and tough. In an environment where human beings were often prey, only separated from their predators by an opposable thumb and a higher level of wits, it was the cautious who would survive with greater regularity. This created a genetic train of events in which the tendency to read more into a situation than was necessarily warranted led to greater survival and reproduction which further spread these over-detecting genes. To simplify: those who believed lived and multiplied.”

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

  •    Member Subscription for 2016: Thank you to members who have renewed membership. Your support is much appreciated and helps lend weight to our campaigns. Visit our website humanist.nz/join if you are either renewing your membership or signing up for the first time.
  •    Upcoming Event: Wellington 27 September, Napier 28 September & Auckland 4 October

(venues and times to be confirmed in next newsletter) Also see abetterlife.nz

Film Screening: ‘A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy & Meaning in a World Without God’

There is no God. Now what? If this is the only life we have, how does that affect how we live our life, how we treat each other, and how we cope with death. As a follow-up to one of Kickstarter’s most successful publishing projects, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson introduces us to some of the many voices from his book. In this fascinating documentary — learn the stories behind the book in interviews with some of our greatest thinkers. Join Chris as he explores issues of joy & meaning and travels around the globe meeting people from all walks of life and backgrounds who challenge the false stereotypes of atheists as immoral and evil. From Daniel Dennett and A.C. Grayling, to Julia Sweeney and Robert Llewellyn — learn the various ways many atheists have left religion for a better life filled with love, compassion, hope, and wonder!

Secular Education Update: Tanya Jacobs and David Hines plan to fast-track a case over religion in schools. Together, they are preparing a fresh way of getting this case into the High Court, following the Appeal Court hearing into Jeff McClintock’s case in June. They had applied to give evidence as part of Jeff’s case, but that proved unsuccessful. So their lawyers, Graeme Little and Frances Joychild advised to make a special application to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, asking them to request the High Court to make a decision about it. It seems that the High Court does not have jurisdiction to hear their complaints, unless they were referred to the Human Rights Review Tribunal first. Graeme is working on a statement of claim, for the Tribunal, listing the laws about which to complain. The Appeal Court left Jeff’s case in limbo, saying he can revive it if he meets several conditions, but these conditions are so restrictive Jeff would have to revoke justifiable complaints he made against Red Beach School, which would destroy the basis of his claim against them. It is Jeff’s choice whether he meets those conditions, or takes some other course, such as an appeal to the Supreme Court. But, Tanya and David don’t believe it can salvage a case that will meet more extensive goals. They are wanting rulings against the laws that enable religious instruction, religious observances, other forms of evangelism in state primary schools or high schools, or any form of religious bias, included in the regular school programme. The Tribunal has a two-year waiting list, but their counsel believes that there is a shorter route: The Tribunal has the right to refer a question of law to the High Court, and this is what they now intend to do. There is a legal right to complain to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, because a formal complaint was made to the Human Rights Commission two years ago. Tanya and David have also been in mediation with the Ministry of Education since February 2015, but this has so far failed to produce the hoped-for guidelines about religious instruction etc. So Tanya and David believe this gives a stronger case for taking this fast-track procedure, called “stating a case”, provided for in the Human Rights Act.

Jeff McClintock has been invited to be a witness in this case. If you have comments or questions about this issue please email David at [email protected]

 

  •    Our arrival date in Nepal, Saturday 16 April 2016, coincided with the final day of the Nepali school year and the school’s Parent’s Day, an important celebration in the school year. Parent’s Day is equivalent to the NZ Prize Giving Ceremony. A special venue was hired and for the whole day, from 10am until 5pm, parents were entertained with class presentations and class prizes and special school awards were given to students. A simple boxed lunch was provided to all parents and students. The Day’s programme was very ably introduced by a young teacher, Damodar Neupane. Kuldip Aryal, SOCH member and member of the school management team was also very busy with the programme organisation. Interspersed with the class presentations were speeches by the School Principal and other persons of importance. There was also entertainment by a comedian who had adults and children in fits of laughter. When we arrived about 10am we thought to find a seat among the body of parents, but to our surprise, we were taken to the front of the Hall and as representatives of NZ Student Sponsors given front seats along with other guests. After the 20 hours flying time plus stopovers, the previous day, it was relaxing to sit back and watch the day unfold. Of course, the language of the day was Nepali, of which we had zero understanding. But, it is amazing how it is possible to glean some understanding of what is happening. Our hosts all speak English so whenever possible they would convey to us what was happening. Most of the class items included singing and dancing. It was all very colourful. One class included a comedy skit, which was very funny. Humour certainly transcends language barriers. Another class presented a drama with their political comment about the four – month economic blockade that had recently paralysed Nepali life. The parents and students gave undivided attention to the whole day! Can you imagine Kiwi parents devoting a whole day to a school event? There was obvious delight in the success of school students. In NZ, attendance at Prize Giving ceremonies is often limited to the successful students and their parents. For myself, I recognised two of our students as their names were called out to receive class prizes. Pooja Lamichland who received First Prize for the fourth successive year, and Sapana Thapa Magar who gained a Second Prize placing. As the proceedings came to a close, I recognised one word in Nepali ‘dhanyabad’ which is Nepali for ‘thank you.’ It gives a special thrill to hear and understand a word in another language. After such an extensive programme, the organizers were exhausted. We learnt later that the organizing teachers had been busy with preparations at the venue, the previous evening, until very late. Another difference with the NZ school calendar is that in Nepal, the new school year began the very next day.
  •    Our travel plans meant that we left the next day for a tour to Tibet. On our return we visited the School to meet our students and do some forward planning for the Skype meet-up with Student sponsors in NZ on 22 May. We were again warmly welcomed and from the Principal’s office we watched the school morning assembly. All the classes line up and the senior students organize a short talk for the students, notices are given and then to the beat of a drum, played by students, all classes file off to their classrooms. Kuldip then brought our sponsored students up to meet with us. They were shy and so were we, but with smiles and Kuldip’s help we all began to relax. Kuldip thought that the students would talk more freely if we were left alone together. The students have good English. It was very humbling as Iain and I have no Nepali, apart from Namaste! The students did relax and we made conversation about what they liked to do, their favorite school studies and other questions. One question that the girls were very keen to ask us was ‘did we have a love marriage?’ Arranged marriages are still very much the practice in Nepal. The girls all hope to have a love marriage. We talked to the students about our plan to skype and they were all very interested in doing this. Our chat went very well and the students relaxed. We talked together for about 30 minutes and then they returned to class. Kuldip was delighted that it went so well and that we talked together for a good length of time. Kuldip then took us on a tour of the school and after this pleasant morning we walked to SOCH Nepal headquarters. By happy chance their youth members were meeting and we were invited in to meet with them. They are a very active group, with activities including celebrating Darwin Day with drawing a Mandela and lighting with candles as evening descended, organising children’s activities in the weeks after the earthquake, and they were currently organising a ‘decorate your classroom’ competition at the school. The decoration was to include some ‘uplifting thoughts.’ We discussed with Nabina who helps lead this group the possibility of finding a liaison person who would help us coordinate communication between students and sponsors. This communication process has been slow to develop. The 2015 earthquake came just as were thinking about how best to arrange this process. Nabina herself has offered to help us with this. We set off again to trek in the Mustang area of Nepal and returned on Saturday 21 May, looking forward to skyping the next day. We were nervous about this process hoping that the technology would work for us. Earlier in the week Kathmandu had a severe electrical storm which completely disrupted internet services. The school’s Internet provider had not restored the service even though Kuldip had been phoning constantly to request urgent repair because of our Skpying arrangement. On the morning of the 22 May there was still no internet. What to do? Kuldip suggested that we use his cellphone! Another small glitch was that I had calculated the time incorrectly and we were an hour early in Nepal. So the students went back to class and reassembled an hour later. I was very glad that I had not calculated an hour later which would have puzzled and greatly inconvenienced sponsors waiting in NZ.  The students may have seemed shy to sponsors in NZ, but we could see how pleased they were to talk with their sponsor. As the skyping session proceeded the students became more relaxed. Kuldip encouraged the students to speak up and use their English, but I have found that using a few Nepali words myself takes quite a lot of courage and the words often stuck in my throat as they tried to come out. Our students felt the same with their English words sticking. As our Skyping time came to an end, Kuldip’s phone began beeping, indicating a flat battery. We just made it! Kuldip thought that it would be very helpful if the parents of the students could meet us. As students departed to their classes Kuldip asked that they invite their parents, or a parent to come to the school the next day to meet with us. As each student came with their parent Kuldip encouraged each student to translate for their parent. The parent who came to meet us was the student’s mother. Fathers were at work. Our conversations were exchanges of smiles, and halting English with Namastes (Nepali greeting) from us. All parents asked Kuldip, in Nepali, to ask us to pass on their very grateful thank you to the NZ Sponsor supporting their child.  
  •    Some background information about the SOCH Nepal/Axis International School. SOCH Nepal purchased a school in 2012. The school had been named Harvard International School. Because of a change in the political climate this name was changed to Ambience International College. American names for schools, used as a marketing tool, were out of favour and there were instances of school buses being attacked. To avoid such disruption many schools changed their names. The SOCH Nepal vision was to provide secular, science-based education and by beginning with education of young people to begin the long term process of eliminating the superstitious practices that pervade Nepali life. Hinduism and Buddhism pervade and are deeply intermingled in daily Nepali life. SOCH Nepal did not want to be confrontational, choosing instead a long term approach to educate young minds. Our Student Scholarship programme began in early 2014. At this time, it was felt that if 70 students were funded in such a way this project could be sustainable. The school role at this time was around 200. Unfortunately, managing a school is a massive undertaking, and financial concerns became a problem. To manage this difficulty SOCH Nepal decided to merge with another small school, Axis International School. Both school campuses would be used and a Junior and Senior school be developed on the two sites. Discussions were well on the way and hopes were high when on April 25, 2015, a 7.1 earthquake struck. Of course, life was turned upside down. The school year started late, buildings were damaged, students returned to their villages, parents felt upper building floors were unsafe, landlords would not pay for repairs, living situations were difficult and then there was the four-month economic blockade. The two schools have now merged and occupy one building with very little outside playing space. The school roll is now about 350. An unfortunate consequence of the merger has been an unintended dilution of the ‘Humanist’ ethos. But, I think that the earthquake and the economic blockade must have been very distracting. When life is at a survival level, it is hard to be ‘high-minded’. Kuldip is still passionate about introducing ‘Humanist’ values. His thought is to have some ‘humanist training’ for the staff. It would be suggested as ‘critical thinking and science based teaching training.’ Nepal’s new constitution is secular but there is a political movement which wants to return Nepal to being a Hindu nation. There is a young man Sanjay Khadka, active in Nepali Humanist activities who is very articulate and skilled with training programmes. Kuldip would like to involve Sanjay in leading some ‘Humanist training’ for the staff. We have some money that has been donated to help the whole school rather than individual students. It seems a good practical application to use some of these funds to develop this training. Sanjay thinks that an initial 2 day course for Axis International School staff could be followed up with short regular training sessions. The school principal, Dinesh Pandey, heard our initial discussions with Kuldip and Sanjay and later asked Kuldip for clarification. Dinesh was very interested in this development. Kuldip felt very encouraged. We are about to contact Kuldip and see what progress has been made with this initiative.
  •    More about our Students. When we began our programme we initially sponsored six students, we now have seven students. The circumstances of two students has recently changed. Laxi Sedhai who was doing well at school, was looked after by her very crippled Grandparents who found that they could no longer care adequately for her, so Laxi was sent to an orphanage. Happily, she has found new adoptive parents but now attends another school. Minu Shau who was enjoying school has had to return to her village as her brother who cared for her in Kathmandu can now no longer do so. Kuldip is grateful to sponsors who have been happy to sponsor two new students.
  •    Sapana Thapa Magar, is sponsored by the Humanist Council. Sapana is 11 years of age and received a Second in Class Award at Parent’s Day. Pooja Lamichlane, is sponsored by Rochelle Forrestor. Pooja is 13 years of age and received, for the fourth year in a row, a First in Class Award at Parent’s Day. Pooja is cared for by her aunt. Kshitiz Budha Magar, a new student is sponsored by Rochelle Forrester and Gaylene Middleton..Kshitiz is in Year .Sadly Kshitiz’s father died recently. Sumana Shrestha is sponsored by Gaylene Middleton. Sumana is 16 years of age and has just completed her School Leaving Certificate examination. Sumana will attend College this year studying Accounting.  Sristi Basnet is sponsored by Jude and Paul Woolman. Sristi is in Year 2 and is one of our new students. Bandana Thing is sponsored by Graham Hill. Bandana is 14 years of age.and enjoys sport. Pabitra Pariyar is sponsored by Lorraine Butler. Pabitra is 12 years of age and enjoys science.