Interviewing Julie Woods, from the Blind Foundation

Interviewing Julie Woods, from the Blind Foundation

Julie Woods is a wonderful client and ambassador of the Blind Foundation. She is also an active member of the Otago community. You can find out more about her on her website. To quote her website,  

” Julie Woods is an inspirational speaker and coach; who has visited the seven Wonders of the World!  So, is it really true she threw a party when she’d been blind for 15 years and has refereed three games of nude touch rugby?” 

Could you tell me a little about what the Blind Foundation does in the local community?

The Blind Foundation provides blind people with rehabilitative services so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives. From providing talking book machines to teaching a blind person to read braille, the Foundation supports local blind people with their vision loss.  

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

Attitudes towards people who are blind and partially sighted is the biggest barrier our members face. The public believing that blind people can’t do things like boil an egg leads to discrimination and prejudice that prevents our community from accessing employment.    

What needs to change in Dunedin?

Attitudes so that blind people can be employed!

What were your expectations coming into the Blind Foundation, and how have they changed?

There’s nothing like watching blind people do the things you think they can’t to open your mind to their capabilities. I’ve watched a 98 year old learn how to use an iPad.

What keeps you motivated?

Knowing that by telling blind people’s stories we can help shift attitudes about blindness and create a truly inclusive society.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

How dedicated our staff are in believing in what blind people are capable of. I’ve never heard a rehab staff member say to a blind person  “no you can’t do that!”

How can interested students help out?

By phoning 03 466 4230 and offering to volunteer. We’re always looking for great people to help our great people!  

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Louis Braille, the inventor of braille! I’d have to brush up on my French though!

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Travelling to 50 countries by the time I was 50!

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Eating Ice cream, listening to ABBA and reading some braille!

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

For my optimism. It helps me face each day with hope!

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Blind Foundation

Te Tūāpapa o Te Hunga Kāpō

P: 09 355 6891


Photo Essay: The Dunedin Sleep Out

Photo Essay: The Dunedin Sleep Out

Here are some gorgeous photos from the Dunedin Sleep Out. The Sleep Out happened on Friday the 28th of July. It was a bitterly cold night, but our troops braved it all in order to raise awareness about New Zealand’s rising levels of homelessness. Students and staff from the University of Dunedin came together to experience one night sleeping rough, to get a taste of life on the streets, and to raise critical funds to tackle homelessness.

To quote Volunteering Otago,

Homelessness is not as visible in Dunedin as it can be in larger cities overseas. Nonetheless, according to the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, there are homeless people in Dunedin every night of the week. The Dunedin Night Shelter provides a vital service for our most vulnerable citizens. An increased demand on the service due to growing social problems and better coordination with organisations such as the police, community mental health teams, and Prisoners Aid means more volunteers are presently needed.








More than 41,000 people in New Zealand have no place to call home.

Over half of New Zealand’s homeless are under 25.

One quarter are children.

You can check out the Dunedin Night Shelter here:


BusGO Dunedin

BusGO Dunedin

Recently, I had a fantastic time talking to Peter Dowden from Bus Go Dunedin.

Could you tell me a little about what the Bus Go Dunedin does in the local community?

Bus Go is short for Bus Users Support Group Otepoti-Dunedin and we aim to maximise people’s access to the bus service and to bring problems people have to the attention of decision makers.

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

Nothing gets up my nose more than hearing of people trapped in their suburb because of an accessibility or poverty issue preventing them from travelling.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

There has been so much achieved making Dunedin’s one of the most wheelchair-accessible bus fleets in the world, but the poor design of our streets let this effort down. Our city’s bus stops just do not match the quality of our buses.

What were your expectations coming into Bus Go Dunedin, and how have they changed?

I thought we needed to splurge money on the bus service, introduce free travel, double the number of buses and that sort of thing, but I have come to realise how much the system proscribed by central government squashes those sorts of visionary ideas. Now we concentrate on getting the existing budgets spent more fairly and efficiently. There is huge waste in the system, especially with empty seats being denied to passengers who can’t afford to travel.

What keeps you motivated?

I should explain that I have an abnormal, possibly unhealthy, interest in buses! A bus geek, if you like. If I wasn’t doing this I would be spending more time with another local club that restores old buses or do more work as a part-time driver for one of the local bus companies. But the “people” side of it keeps me most interested as I am not that mechanically minded compared to most bus enthusiasts.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I came into it as a greenie thinking I needed to campaign to promote bus travel to benefit the environment, but I found advocacy for social justice was what people wanted: folk came to us for help negotiating with administrators of the bus service.

How can interested students help out?

We’re keen to support bus users who find the service difficult to use. We have a plan for “Bus Buddies” – support volunteers who help people with disabilities or communication issues to use the bus service. We have plenty of potential volunteers but we need a few people with management skills to help establish the Bus Buddies scheme. It would be a great project for students of commerce, management or social work and when they had established the service they could hand it over as a running concern.
And finally, just a few fun questions:

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Sir Brian Souter, the Scottish bus billionaire: he’s cool in a bussy sort of way but he’s also a totally bigoted ant-gay Bible-bashing nutjob, we could have some fiery arguments. He lives in a castle, so I’d be his dinner guest.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Ignoring my parents’ expectations and becoming a bus driver, and getting away with it.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Well I can go a few days without buses in my other job (which is in media) but I get a bit antsy if I don’t get at least a few hours a week behind the wheel of a bus – that’s perfect week.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

When I see a bus stop that a bus can actually get into tightly alongside the kerb without hitting anything, so that passengers can easily step in or out… there are not many of those in Dunedin though.

You can get involved with Bus Go Dunedin here:

Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

As winter continues to hit Dunedin with everything it has, the reality of New Zealand’s housing issue is magnified. Many of us are very fortunate in that we are not constantly plagued by the same chill that others are exposed to on a daily basis, but with that position comes with an obligation: to speak out and force action for those that are.

Far too often one hears that this country is too developed and prosperous to have people living in substandard housing that makes them sick, or even without a ceiling over their head altogether. Despite this, we still have more than 41,000 people living a life on the streets, a figure that has risen 25 percent between 2006 and 2013, as the population only increased by 4.8 percent.

The correlation between homelessness and mental health disorders are stark, as is homelessness with criminality and substance abuse. These factors provide even more problems on top of the existing issues keeping these people pinned into their predicament. In fact, 50 percent of organisations or groups providing homes for homeless people also provide services that help prevent criminal offending, 42 percent for mental health problems, and 40 percent for substance abuse and addiction issues.

If what you have read hasn’t shocked you, then this might: more than half of the 41,000 homeless people are under 25 years old. People like you and me, suffering on streets up and down the bitterly cold islands we call home. It’s easy to ignore this demographic, thinking of them only as being impaired by alcoholism and drug addiction, with just a blanket and a piece of cardboard telling disinterested passers-by how needy they are. In reality, we are the ones who have failed them, and we’re continuing to seek any justification we possibly can to allow ourselves to ignore their plight by placing blame for society’s shortcomings on their individual shoulders.

By Joe Higham, co-editor of Critic, and all-round lovely guy. 

This article was originally published by Critic te Arohi. You can read the article here

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

This post marks the first article in a series about the Dunedin Night Shelter and the struggles of the homeless. We’re in the lead-up to the Dunedin Sleep Out and it’s so important to raise awareness of this issue and to support the amazing people in our community making a difference. I was fortunate enough to interview Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust about his work with the Dunedin Night Shelter.


Could you tell me a little about what the Dunedin Night Shelter does in the local community?

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust offers anybody, (men and women), emergency accommodation in Dunedin. Clients receive an evening meal, shower, laundry, bed and breakfast in the morning. We also have available staff who can assist clients in finding accommodation or sourcing the help they require. We also have transitional accommodation for selected ex-prisoners, who can stay in Phoenix Lodge for 6 months, in a controlled and supportive environment, to help them adjust to life outside of prison in a constructive way. We work with PARS (Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society).

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

I found myself so angry and upset about some things in our community that I actually choked up with sadness while singing the National Anthem at an ANZAC day service! Some of the things that upset me are the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our economy. Some people earn an amazing amount of money, while those in important jobs (e.g. carers of the elderly) earn so much less. The economic successes in our country seem to benefit a relative few at the top. Trickle down theory does not work.

I took a funeral of a 19 year old girl recently. Both her parents worked, but her dad, thinking of the cost of a funeral said, “We exist from week to week. We do not have savings. How can we afford that?” That is life for many families.

Secondly, I have worked among the vulnerable in our community for many years. Changes in technology, economics (loss of manufacturing jobs) etc. mean that there are a lot more people unable to be employed. There are many who can never keep up with digital technology, who got left behind at school. So while there seems amazing “progress” there are those on the bottom who live with no sense of hope or purpose. Looking down the barrel of living a whole life on the benefit sucks.  

This can lead to bad life choices, addictions and sometimes mental health issues. I feel for these people, and I think their numbers may grow.  While our “progress” in technology and efficiency sounds great, it leaves a lot of people behind. I think people can survive poverty, but the lack of purpose, hope and dignity (no useful place in the community) eats at their soul. In my youth it was different in NZ for such people; there were jobs, they had work mates and something useful to do.

Thirdly, I grew up feeling good about egalitarian New Zealand, with our free education system and our public health system, but these days these benefits have been eroded. In the long run I think the changes cost, economically (we pay in other ways – e.g. mental health system cutbacks lead to justice system increases) but also in terms of human well-being. We have lost a sense of “common-wealth”.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

I would like to see more manufacturing jobs created in Dunedin so that people can find useful work. Secondly, our staff at the Night Shelter struggle to find affordable accommodation for people in Dunedin. Thirdly, unemployed people used to have in Dunedin ASCO (Advisory and Support Centre Otago). ASCO ran a day time drop-in (they cooked a cheap meal), sourced vegetables, bread and other groceries that people could buy cheaply. ASCO also offered support and ran various work projects such as pine cone collections. Its funding was cut by the government and it stopped. If I had the money, time, energy and skills I would want to start a similar thing. Dunedin needs a centre like that.

What were your expectations coming into the Dunedin Night Shelter, and how have they changed?

I was part of the exploratory group who began to explore the need in 2003. It hosted a public gathering, became a steering committee and then a Trust Board. My expectations were that I would be a useful member of the committee until the service began, and then move on. I never expected I would become chairman and be involved for this long. I was a part of the formation of Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin and that consumed my life. I guess I did not want that sort of responsibility again, but if anything it has evolved into an almost full-time commitment and consumes many hours every week.

We spend around $120,000 per year – I would never have thought it would have got to such a big budget and responsibility. I guess too I have found it more complex than I thought. We have to consider staff and client Health and Safety protocols. When do you refuse entry? How generous should you be? When does support become support for people’s addictions or bad lifestyle? My original thoughts were just have a house and a few volunteers rostered. But it is so much more complex trying to shuffle so many aspects to it.

What keeps you motivated?

I guess from my spirituality I feel a certain solidarity with those in need. The homeless are my brothers and sisters. I also see it as a way of sharing resources more evenly – resources of money, of time, of skills, education etc. Secondly – the support we have received from the community makes me feel we are not alone on this journey.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I guess the support we have received along the journey. When we first began our street appeal people asked, “Why do we need a Night Shelter in Dunedin?” These days we are almost embarrassed by the support and generosity of people. We raised $600,000 to purchase our premises. In 2004, when we were exploring there was a building we looked at going for $600,000. We did not pursue it because we saw that as an impossible pipe dream. But we got better buildings for the same amount in 2015 through Dunedin’s generosity.

How can interested students help out?

We would be very grateful for assistance with our street appeal between 24th July and 29th. If students could give an hour to assist with that would be great.

For this and any other offers (cooking a meal to go into the freezer, giving excess bedding to give to clients etc) phone Carol Frost, our Operations Director at the Shelter on 4770546 or


Image: Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, building a garden shed with Dr Dave McMorran from the University of Otago’s Chemistry Department.

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

This article was originally published on the SciBlogs network on 16/6/2017. It is reproduced here with permission. 

The nurse steadied my arm as she gently positioned the syringe barrel in place. “You can look away if you need to,” she said, “it will soon be over.” I squirmed in my seat, but kept my eyes fixed on the needle as it gently slid beneath my skin. I was six years old, and photographs of children suffering from measles, mumps and rubella kept me awake at night. I would toss and turn, imagining that every tickle from my flannelette sheets was the first bump of an angry measles rash. This cold, silver needle gliding into my vein represented freedom from this anxiety. It stung, and it made me feel queasy, but any childhood fear of contracting some horrifically virulent disease was alleviated.

Colin Murdoch

Disposable syringes made of plastic are commonplace today. We don’t blink twice upon seeing a hollow needle made of metal, a barrel and a plunger made of plastic. Indeed, sixteen billion of them are used the world over every year. However, it has been only 55 years since the plastic syringe was invented, replacing the glass and metal syringes that had been used since the 17th century. The plastic disposable syringe was invented by a New Zealander, the pharmacist and veterinarian Colin Albert Murdoch. Born in Christchurch on the 6th of February, 1929, the young Murdoch was a precocious and intelligent child. At the age of ten, instead of playing with mud pies, he was already mixing nitrates with sulphuric acid to make gunpowder, building himself a firearm with a wick and a small asbestos-filled hammer. Despite suffering from dyslexia, Murdoch had an avid interest in chemistry and began studying at the College of Pharmacy in Wellington. At the age of 25, he opened a pharmacy in Timaru.

Murdoch was a remarkably compassionate and thoughtful man. At the age of 13, he saved a man from drowning in the New Brighton estuary and was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal. Murdoch’s empathy extended not only to humans, but also animals. Later in his life, Murdoch studied veterinary medicine and turned his hand at treating animals and livestock. He was well aware of the risks in reusing syringes; the glass syringes in use at the time were designed for multiple use and were sterilised each time. Infection caused by the transmission of dangerous pathogens from animal to animal or person to person still occurred, despite careful sterilisation practices. This was because crystalline antibiotic deposits on the inside walls of the syringes had made bacteria resistant. Murdoch thus set out to design the disposable hypodermic syringe, a plastic version of its glass predecessors.  According to legend, the eureka moment hit Murdoch as he was playing with his fountain pen. Perhaps all those kids playing with their fidget spinners are onto something.

Murdoch immediately presented his design to the New Zealand Department of Health, but his idea was dismissed as being too “abstruse” and “futuristic”. Development of the syringe was delayed for several years due to a lack of funding and support. Thankfully, Murdoch’s design was finally implemented, and became incredibly successful. As articulated in the book Kiwi Ingenuity – A Book of New Zealand Ideas and Inventions, published in 1993, “It is impossible to comprehend the catastrophic consequences of this situation if such practices were still occurring today. Diseases of such ultimate incurability and virulence as the HIV and AIDS virus, hepatitis A, B, C and most recently a new D form… and TB to name just a few. Instead of now having to care for, and contain, the several million infected people throughout the world who have AIDS, the numbers could well be 30 or 40 percent of the entire population.”

Colin Murdoch was a prolific inventor and went on to design many different variations of the disposable syringe, such as prepared ampoule-type moulded plastic syringe darts, disposable automatic vaccinator syringes, disposable sterile pre-filled hypodermic syringes, sterile self-filling syringes for blood samples, variable dose vaccinator syringes and wet and dry disposable syringes. Despite owning the patents to over 40 inventions, Murdoch did not profit greatly from his designs. In 1995, he told the Timaru Herald, “Patents give you the right to sue, they don’t give you the money to sue. It just costs too much.”

Clean Needle Exchanges

As well as facilitating countless vaccinations and saving the lives of diabetics the world over, the disposable syringe has also revolutionised the lives of people with drug addictions. The value of clean needle exchanges has been proven time and time again. A comprehensive 2004 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found a “compelling case that NSPs substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among IDUs and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” At these clean needle exchanges, injecting drugs users may obtain hypodermic needles at little or no cost.

Based on the philosophy of harm reduction that attempts to reduce the risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDs, clean needle exchanges offer equipment free of charge, and often require service users to return used syringes to receive an equal number of new syringes. These exchanges and the disposable, single-use needles they offer, decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis without creating new drug users. Moreover, the vast majority of clean needle exchanges aren’t just clean, clinical offices where drug users can shuffle in to pick up equipment. Instead, these programs host support clubs, HIV and STI testing, health and counselling service referrals, the provision of up-to-date information about safe injecting practices, and access to contraception and sexual health service. They can also serve as safe spaces for individuals to learn about their rights and recover their dignity.

The Caring Voice on the Other End of the Line

The Caring Voice on the Other End of the Line

April 2013. I was an ickle first year, adrift in the big wide world of university assignments, keg stands, noisy lecture theatres, goon bags, and overenthusiastic health science students. To cut a long story short, the combination of university stress, a genetic predisposition to mental illness, insomnia, major life changes and the ever-persistent existential question of what I was doing with my life propelled me into depression and generalised anxiety disorder. I felt all alone, cut off from family and friends. Yet Youthline was there for me. I would phone them on 0800 37 66 33 and a caring, warm voice would answer. The voice was always non-judgemental. It was kind and helpful, and I would hang up feeling like maybe things would be ok after all. 

In my opinion, Youthline is an incredible resource. Youthline Otago is a confidential, culturally responsive, non-judgmental support and community service focused on the needs of youth and our volunteers. According to Manager Brian Lowe, Youthline “aims to support people to develop the tools to empower themselves and to develop their own responses to their circumstances.” The Otago Branch is part of the Youthline National Helpline, and they run a face to face counselling service, community education programmes for personal and peer to peer support. They also have an extensive volunteer personal & career development programme. 

I asked Brian what he thought needed to change in Dunedin. He replied with some great words of insight, arguing that “Dunedin needs to recognise the challenges and pressures facing youth and young adults and how their world has rapidly changed.” I agree. Just consider how social media has impacted our mental health. For example, a new survey published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK has found that Instagram is the worst social networking app when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health. There were no such pressures in our parents’ days. “We need to ensure they are listened to and supported to grow and development into healthy and resilient adults. We need to invest more in the development of their wellbeing.” 

I wanted to learn more about Brian’s own experience with Youthline Otago. What were his expectations, and had they been fulfilled? “Coming into Youthline Otago,” replied Brian, “I had expected the types of issues that present themselves to our services. What has been surprising and more and more evident, is the raising prevalence of mental distress and the resultant behaviours associated with this, including; anxiety disorders, depression, suicide ideation, self harm and other behaviours.” New Zealand’s mental health system is reaching breaking point. Sadly, suicide accounts for a third of all deaths in those aged 15-24 and New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is the highest in the OECD. Something needs to be done, yet according to Brian, “the systems and agencies involved are struggling to cope.” 

In such disturbing circumstances, what keeps you motivated, I ask Brian? His answer is heartwarming. “What keeps me motivated is that young people are resilient, have amazing potential, are socially aware and care for each other and their world.  But at times, it is very overwhelming.  To have the privilege to be invited to walk alongside someone and support them until they are strong enough not to need our help and then see the what they are capable of achieving, is worth the work.”

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, or if you just need someone to talk to and unload on, I’d recommend calling Youthline. They certainly helped me. They were a friend in need. Of course, I’d also recommend talking to a counsellor and potentially seeking medical help, but remember that Youthline is there. They can help, and provide face-to-face counselling and psychotherapy. Other services include community education, youth group facilitation and volunteer development opportunities.

Thanks for talking to us Brian. We wish you all the best.

Help Our Helpline

You can become a Youthline volunteer and join us in our pursuit of changing lives a phone call – or text or email – at a time. To find out how you can get involved and learn more about our counselling services & the Community Education Programme: