Gloriavale is a Christian community on the West Coast of the South Island near Lake Haupiri. It was established by a Christian man named Hopeful Christian (Neville Cooper), who runs the sect. Since its inception it has been in the news numerous times regarding concerns about its management, the conduct of Mr Cooper and the well being of the children there.
The community has about 600 people living there and is set on several acres of land. It has been certified as of an acceptable standard in terms of its facilities. All food there is grown or made. It has several business ventures including dairying and sphagnum moss exports. The school teaches its own curriculum, which has been certified as acceptable by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
Prayer Ready had down syndrome. Because of her medical condition she had trouble chewing and swallowing. The day she died the meat portion of her dinner meal had not been cut down to sufficiently small bits that she could manage. Thus she began to choke on a piece. Someone went to get help but the door handle had been removed so no one could get and no one could get out – a common practice until then at Gloriavale’s “isolation” units (a room in each hostel), where those who were ill were sent to keep the illness isolated from the rest of the people in the community.
I respect Gloriavale Christian Community do not want a misleading impression created. Except that the impression being created is far from misleading. The one that the public of New Zealand increasingly have is that there are some serious child well being issues not consistent with the expectations of New Zealand society and contrary to New Zealand law.
However Lilia Tarawa left Gloriavale with her family. Her Mother was the Mother Superior of the community and the leader of all of the women. Her father was responsible for running their sphagnum moss export business. The family was highly regarded within the community. After Ms Tarawa left, she adjusted to life outside of the camp taking advantage of the broad range of practical skills she had developed – sewing, cooking, reading music, knitting among others. She also wrote a book about life inside Gloriavale and what prompted her family to leave.
Ms Tarawa’s book backgrounds issues in the community that raise some serious doubts about the credibility of the story that the Gloriavale management told the Coroner when it investigated Ms Ready’s death. The release of the Coroners findings will do nothing to silence the speculation about what really went on. It is time that Gloriavale told the truth. It will hurt the community, but I think not telling the truth might in the end destroy Gloriavale.