Otago Polytechnic

Otago Polytechnic Chaplain Steve Downey has seen plenty of elevated anxiety over the past several weeks of lockdown – “and that’s understandable”. But he has also noted plenty of positive signs.

“Although I would not for a second diminish the very difficult circumstances in which many people find themselves, I have actually seen anxiety levels decrease for some people and their spirits lift in recent weeks. Perhaps this is because they have been able to focus more on what really matters in life – relationships.

“During this time, people are connecting with loved ones more, and they are reaching out to help others.”

Steve has been doing exactly that over the past several weeks of lockdown – extending a helping hand (not literally, of course, given distancing rules) to a range of Otago Polytechnic students and staff.

Every Friday he acts as both gopher and friendly face, delivering food parcels, equipment and resources required for study or work; in fact, anything that might help someone.

Steve says he “loves” Fridays, as they are the culmination of a whole lot of work from other staff that has been done throughout the week.

“From Monday to Thursday there are a whole range of people and teams who are connecting with others.

“As well as various academic staff, the list includes our Māori support team Te Punaka Ōwheo, Student Success, and the Otago Polytechnic Student Association . . . they all provide great academic and pastoral care and help identify the needs of our community.

“Then, on a Thursday night, I’ll get sent a list of who needs what, so I can provide the tip-of-the-iceberg part of the process on Friday.

“I average about 10 home visits per Friday. The range of people I see is very broad, from international students to locals; from young to mature students; people living alone to others juggling study with large families – it’s a wide spectrum of people, cultures and needs.

“I adhere to all the health and safety protocols, always keeping a distance of around 5 metres and using hand sanitiser.”

In fact, Steve has been using so much sanitiser between visits that the skin on his hands has cracked.

“But being able to make all those pastoral connections – albeit from 5 metres away – has been amazing.

“Catering to physical needs is important, for sure. But that emotional aspect, letting people know that they matter and others care about them, can’t be underestimated.

In addition to the emotional and physical needs, Steve also believes that being spiritually grounded during this time is essential.

“Having a faith and trust in God gives me hope and strength in times of challenge and uncertainty.  While my spirituality is obviously different to many others, having a strong sense of your identity and values and being able to find meaning and purpose within distressing moments really helps.

“I hope a by-product of this disruption and reconnection is that we reprioritise relationships going forward.  The kindness we’ve seen is wonderful, but seeing it continue on the other side of this would be even more wonderful.”

Brayden Murray, Otago Polytechnic Director of Learner Services, says he is proud of the efforts of his team in this difficult time.

“Steve has been doing great work. He is one of many Otago Polytechnic staff who have been working hard across many areas, reaching out to support learners and fellow colleagues.”


Published on 11 May 2020

Orderdate: 11 May 2020
Expiry: 31 Jul 2022