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Seeding our environment’s future

Rangitoto College Year 11 student Olivia Li says the tiny manuka plants she is growing in her backyard from seeds collected at Rosedale Park are “like my little babies”.

The 15-year-old, who is one of the youth leaders for Te Hōnonga a Iwi Restoring Rosedale Park, is overseeing step one of the restoration’s Seed Whakapapa Project.

Guided by local environmentalist Nicholas Mayne, Olivia collects seeds in a culturally appropriate way from Rosedale Park to raise seedlings that will survive in the local climate and conditions.

Once, they are big enough, the seedlings will go to Kristin School, where Year Two classes transplant the plants and care for them while they grow further. At the end of the year, when school closes for the summer, the plants go to the amazing older adult team at Settlers Village in Albany who look after them until they are ready to be planted at the restoration site.

Olivia says she will be a bit sad to let go of her baby seedlings but she can’t wait to see the plants she has grown go into the ground at Rosedale Park. “It will be really cool.

“Our seed whakapapa project will help contribute to our native New Zealand ecosystem and help improve our environment in the face of climate change. The world is consistently changing and we need to grow plants that we know will survive our climate.”

Olivia was first introduced to the restoration when she attended a tree planting day with a friend as part of Rangitoto College’s drive to encourage students to carry out service in the community. She met project co-ordinator Nicky Shave and heard about the youth leadership opportunities the restoration offered.

“I knew I wanted to be part of something really big that was making a difference.”

She currently has between 50 and 100 seedlings growing in her backyard and admits she has had mixed results since starting the work. Some of the earlier trays of seedlings did not survive.

“It’s been a bit try and fail but I’m learning a lot. I just have to keep trying again. The process is worth it.”

Working on the restoration awakened a desire to help the environment. “Before I did this project, the environment wasn’t as big in my heart. But as I’ve learned more, I’ve realised how important it is. Everything around us is nature and is key to our survival. We all need to appreciate it so much more.”

She also enjoys the opportunity the project gives to create connections between children and youth in the community and older adults.

“We want to activate the knowledge in our older adults within our community in a way that enables their place within society, to be more valued, and we want to activate young people to develop new knowledge and care for climate change and their local environment.”

Raising seedlings for Te Hōnonga a Iwi is just one of many activities Olivia fits in around her schoolwork. She also volunteers at a retirement home and at her local church.

She loves music and has taken vocal lessons since she was four, currently studying both classical and pop. She plays the viola and has recently taken up piano lessons again to improve her music theory.

Olivia does competitive dancing as part of a troupe and takes part in dancing exams across classical genres including tap, jazz, contemporary, lyrical and ballet. She also does traditional Chinese dancing.

With a few more years of high school ahead of her, Olivia says her plans for the future are “a bit fuzzy” but she hopes to continue her vocal studies and look at sciences and the humanities. Studying abroad at some stage also appeals.

But short term, her focus is on keeping her seedlings alive. “This is an amazing project and I am so happy to be a part of it.”

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