Lincoln Tan: Let's make NZ Idols of our real-life heroes
4:57AM Monday January 08, 2007
At A New Year gathering with fellow immigrant friends, the topic of our conversation turned to some of the challenges our children face growing up in New Zealand.
Feeling nostalgic at this time of year, we also spoke of the people we looked up to in our own growing-up years.
For me, it was a teacher who had the reputation of being able to give hope even to students who had lost faith in themselves.
He was Brother Sebastian Gabriel, from the Catholic De La Salle order, who continued to be a source of inspiration for me long after I left school.
I still have a card he made himself and gave me on my last day at secondary school. He wrote: "To make a difference in this world, be true to yourself."
In my working life, a person who I greatly admired was my first editor, T.S. Khoo.
Each time we were short on news to fill the pages, I was amazed at how the former editor-in-chief of the Straits Times in Singapore - puffing on his cigar and taking a 15-minute stroll around the block - could come up with no less than 10 good story ideas.
One of my friends at the gathering said that our children growing up in New Zealand lack real role models and heroes they can relate to and identify with.
This could put a glass ceiling on their dreams and aspirations.
Last year, in the course of some work for the Journalists' Training Organisation, I spoke to several Asian students doing media studies in New Zealand.
Although some said it had been their dream to become a journalist, one of the main reasons cited for not choosing journalism as a career was because they did not see any Asians succeeding in that field in New Zealand.
Today, a person becomes a hero in New Zealand when he dons the black jersey.
Woe to those who grow up not excelling in rugby and worse may befall those totally without interest in the game played with an odd-shaped ball.
Having the first Asian All Black is still a dream away, so where can our young people find role models to look up to?
Looking through this year's New Year Honours, there were several Asian names on the list, including Dan Chan, Elsie Ho, Ngoy Dun Meng Ly, Narayana Nair and George Wong. They could be great role models for our children, but we know hardly anything about them.
Other than hints such as services to the Chinese community and services to the migrant community, we know little of the value of their work or how they made the honours list.
Some of those honoured had stories that were inspirational, such as that of Wayne Burton (Officer of the Order of Merit) who rescued two wounded soldiers in East Timor in the middle of fierce gunfire, even though he was caught unarmed.
How Burton had to deal with the aftermath of a machete attack, where a mother of two was killed hugging one of the children, would have made a great Hollywood movie script. But in typical unassuming Kiwi fashion, we don't like to blow our own trumpet and say little of the actions of our modern heroes.
This is sad, especially at a time when many of our young people, not just young Asians, are in dire need of heroes and role models.
Contrast that to how the brazen Americans do it. When they find a hero they make sure everyone knows. When construction worker Wesley Autrey rescued a teenager who fell on the subway tracks, he was given celebrity status.
He was in news reports, on major talkshows, honoured with a Bronze Medallion at New York's City Hall, and taken by limousine to meet Donald Trump who presented him with a cheque for $10,000. As well, companies got in on the act, showering him with gifts.
People told the media that Autrey's heroism made them proud to be Americans and some said it inspired them to do good things themselves.
In New Zealand, where drug abuse, violence and crime are a commonplace for our young, and with a growing number losing interest in their studies - and even losing hope and faith in themselves - there is a desperate need for heroes and role models.
Last year, the Child and Youth Mortality review committee said the suicide trend among those aged 10 to 14 was of extreme concern, with more than 10 per cent of all deaths in that age group from suicide.
When my friends and I asked the children and teenagers who were at the luncheon who their heroes were, all of them cited fictional characters who were either from computer games or Hollywood movies.
We need to do more to identify and highlight the work of our own Kiwi heroes to bring hope and inspire our disenfranchised young so that they can have real heroes to look up to - not Yu-Gi-Oh or Superman.
In a year when broadcasters are considering whether to screen another season of NZ Idol, perhaps there could be a reality series where people can nominate their Kiwi heroes and viewers vote on who becomes the winner of the real NZ Hero.
Our heroes need not be anything super. They don't have to be Sir Edmund Hillarys or Sir Peter Blakes, but ordinary New Zealanders who excel and take pride in what they do - actors, musicians, community workers - such as those on the New Year Honours list.