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Support and inclusion for Autism Cook Islands

Thursday 28 April 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in Local, National


Support and inclusion for   Autism Cook Islands
Fire Chief Breamnt Kea (left) and a Fire and Aviation Rescue Officer (right) assist Iraia Feao (middle) with squirting the firehose. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22042712

Autism Cook Islands (ACI) has visited a team of firefighters at the Rarotonga Fire and Aviation Rescue centre as part of Autism Month events.

Wednesday’s visit was part of ACI’s school holiday programme which helps to promote awareness, acceptance and inclusion of people living with autism here in the Cook Islands.

Around 30 members from ACI showed up with their families, eager to learn what it takes to be a firefighter, and what’s involved in the job.

“It’s been so great having them here,” said Manager for the Rarotonga Airport and Fire Service, George Nicholls. “We’ve had this ongoing relationship with the Autism Cook Islands Association for a while. 

“They have been visiting us for the last four years and every year they visit to see what we can do. We (also) try to create something special for them that is fun and entertaining.” 

A Fire and Aviation Rescue Officer in training assists Caseus Nelio who has autism with dressing like a fireman. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22042713

During the visit, Crew Chief Breamnt Kea and Rescue Fire Officer Paul Matapo led the demonstrations, giving each of the kids a turn at squirting the firehose and dressing up as firemen while showing them the department’s new rescue boat.

Some of the other firefighters also demonstrated the level of fitness and effort required to earn a fireman’s jacket and helmet, and be part of the Rarotonga Airport and Fire Service. 

“I think it’s good for them to be exposed to things like this,” said Crew Chief Breamnt Kea. “It’s a way for them to realise that anything is possible because a lot of them are really interesting, with potential.

“It’s also training for our crew as we learn how to open up again to the public,” he said.

“Having the young ones here is a way of learning for us while we display what we do for them.”

A Fire and Aviation Rescue team member demonstrates some of the training required to earn a fireman’s jacket and helmet. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22042711

Autism Cook Islands Programme Manager Kat Jensen said the organisation’s visit to the firefighters is their second to last event for April, which is Autism Month.

Their last visit will be to Tumutoa Tours today, where they will participate in traditional games and weaving before their initiatives begin in May.

“We love being able to bring out our families to do these community events,” said Jensen.

“It gets the community involved in what our kids are doing and is all about raising more awareness, support and inclusion - getting our kids involved in normal everyday activities,” she adds. 

“Doing these events is also an opportunity to build networking among our parents, who are all on the same journey with their children and can share their experiences.

“We are so grateful to the airport for allowing us to come and visit.”

Around 30 members of the Autism Cook Islands community showed up with their families to participate in a Fire and Aviation visit. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22042715

During the day ACI was also presented with an $800 cheque from Air New Zealand as part of the Blue Day fundraiser which was held earlier this year and is one of ACI’s biggest events.

The cheque was presented by Air New Zealand staff member Carolyn Tixier, who led the project and pulled together the efforts of different Air New Zealand departments.

During the presentation, Tixier said: “I am so proud to be helping out this cause. I know the awesome stuff that these guys do, I see the holiday programmes and the after school programmes…and I know this money will go a long way."

Air New Zealand country Manager Adrienne Hosking-Tinirau said: “Air New Zealand is all about being involved in community initiatives in the Cook Islands, and this is one of the initiatives that we do fully support.

“There is some personal touch as well with our team members, and this one really means a lot to us as well as it does to you (the Autism Cook Islands community).”

From left: Simone Feao with Air New Zealand staff member Carolyn Tixier, Air New Zealand country Manager Adrienne Hosking-Tinirau, and Programme Manager for Autism Cook Islands Kat Jensen. PHOTO: SIAN SOLOMON/22042716