Not long after arriving in Rarotonga as manager for Esther Honey, I discovered the clinic had been given notice to vacate its Nikao premises and was on a month-to-month lease until alternative premises could be found.
For months and months, we searched for alternative premises. I also learned that before I arrived, one of the Esther Honey board members had been on Rarotonga doing the same. I then decided that the Arorangi site would be best.
There were a few concerns with restrictions that were to be placed on the premises, but as there was no alternative, it was obviously the best building to be set up as the new clinic for Esther Honey.
All this time, discussions were taking place between CIIC, Esther Honey and myself, but I did not have the authority to commit to any decisions made. Communication was pretty much non-existent between Esther Honey and CIIC so it was going nowhere. In the meantime, I took it upon myself to say Esther Honey would accept the building and at the same time secured accommodation for the volunteers.
I heard after my appointment as the manager of Te Are Manu that Esther Honey had never been offered the building, but that was definitely not what I was told.
As Esther Honey would not commit to the new location, the question was posed as to whether a “locally” owned and operated charity should be set up, owned by the people of the Cook Islands for the Cook Islands, with local Cook Islanders on the board of directors. This was an initiative that CIIC was heading towards and it was felt that the Cook Islands had come of age where they were ready to look at this seriously. This was not the first time something similar had been proposed but had subsequently “fallen over”.
Consequently, I resigned from Esther Honey as my contract had finished, and Te Are Manu was conceived, electing a board. I was immediately asked to step down from any decisions and communication with CIIC. I was offered the manager’s job but I could see our ideas on running a welfare charity were very different and there was no money for wages, so I resigned.
I do NOT believe Esther Honey was surprised, and I do believe it was the right thing to have happened. Esther Honey was struggling to recruit volunteers, resulting in airfares paid and wages paid to veterinarians. It also became necessary to pay a caretaker out of donations, which left EHF Cook Islands struggling for funds. There were large gaps when no volunteers were available. There were also questions as to whether Esther Honey would stay on the island. These questions started before my arrival.
I hope that in time, Te Are Manu will live up to what it was set up as, with all the donations going back into animal welfare on the island. With recruitment also being done on the island, there should be a steady stream of volunteers, with someone there year-round.
They should slide into where Esther Honey leaves off. They have a beautiful clinic that CIIC has spent money and time rebuilding and with the right management it should run efficiently.
My big concern is the fact that they are not allowed to “home” cats and dogs (puppies and kittens), and I feel either the SPCA will have to pick this up or an alternative project conceived, or the whole dynamics will fall over. Also, I believe it needs to be run along the same model as Esther Honey, as a charity.
Esther Honey has done an amazing job paving a great future for animal welfare in The Cook Islands.
After all a charity is successful when it is no longer needed.