Te Rito Peyroux, from Turangi, had travelled all around the world through the Methodist Church with her best friend Lana Lazarus, and her dream had always been to come to the Cook Islands.
“I’d been coming back and forth, because at that time I was here quite a lot sorting out my late father’s estate.
She had always said how much she wanted to come with me, but unfortunately she never got around to it,” Peyroux said.
Lazarus was diagnosed with cancer so Peyroux spent the rest of her time in New Zealand by her side.
During her life, Lazarus was heavily involved in netball, both in the Maori and North Harbour community, and asked Peyroux to ensure that the netball girls would get to experience the paradise that she couldn’t.
“So I said, ‘there is actually a tournament called Netball in Paradise’, so she asked that I take the girls to that.
Lazarus was from Ngapuhi (a Maori iwi located in the Northland region of New Zealand), and in heeding her request, Peyroux assembled a team from all around the region. Family members who heard about the journey also wanted to take part.
“What started as nine under 15 girls turned into a group of 27. It’s quite surreal and emotional to think about,” Peyroux said.
During their travels, the two would always be accompanied by groups of young people, and although on this trip Peyroux was without her friend, the emotional time has doubled as one of healing.
For the young girls that make up the Ngapuhi ki Raro team, it was almost as if Lazarus was on the court with them, as she influenced the creation of their stellar uniforms.
“Her mother chose the colours because they are Ngapuhi colours, but she also included different shades.
So most of the girls have red in their koru, but then there is also a maroon colour.
“The maroon, white and black colour is for Netball North Harbour.” Peyroux says the first time she saw the team in their uniforms was when they were assembled at the airport, and it was a surreal moment.
“It was very moving to see everyone at 5.30 in the morning all set and ready to go.
“From that time, I kind of realised that it was all happening. It’s was real.” Because of how influential Lazarus was in her North Harbour community, and because she touched so many lives, the group found many wanted to help the team get to Rarotonga. Lazarus also left a substantial amount of money in her will to support the trip.
“We received so much assistance from the Ngapuhi Iwi office. I think because of the work that Lana did in the community, a lot of different groups were quite encouraged to help us.
“The Ngapuhi office sponsored backpacks, drink bottles…practical things
“Because the type of person that Lana was, she always wanted to make sure that young people felt safe, and enjoyed whatever they were doing.
“And now she is living through all of us who have come to Rarotonga.”