Death with dignity: How a Rotorua club is helping Samoa during the measles outbreak

8 Dec, 2019 4:12pm  

By: Jean Bell

Multimedia journalist

Dianne Pye from Kiwi Coffin Club. Photo

Dianne Pye from Kiwi Coffin Club. Photo / Stephen Parker

twenty-four people - mainly children - who died in the Samoa measles outbreak will get a dignified burial due to a Rotorua club's labour of love.

During the last four days, members of the Rotorua charity Kiwi Coffin Club have pitched in and made coffins to send over to the Pacific Islands to help bring some decorum in the midst of the tragedy.

Figures show 65 people had died in the outbreak up until Saturday afternoon and 4460 cases of measles had been reported.

Kiwi Coffin Club member Ron Wattam, 77, organised of the project and says he understood children were being buried in a sheet.

"I cannot have that. It's just not humane," he said. "I'm an emotional guy. You don't expect these young people to die in the prime of their life.

"People are crying out for coffins."

Wattam has been on his phone constantly since Thursday co-ordinating the project.

"I've had over 80 calls over the last four days," he said. "If more coffins are needed, we're just another phone call away."

The coffins, which included a mixture of sizes suitable from babies to adults, would be shipped with one placed inside of another to save space.

Ron Wattam from Kiwi Coffin Club. Photo

Ron Wattam from Kiwi Coffin Club. Photo / Stephen Park

He was approached on Thursday afternoon about making coffins. He called around the committee and got a "unanimous yes" to taking on the project.

But he got another call saying that a logistical issue meant it was all off and Wattam was "deflated".

Before he knew it, he received yet another call and the plan was back on.

He spent the next few hours on the phone organising supplies, such as the wood, paint, handles and lining for the coffins.

On Friday, his phone started ringing about the project at 6am and he was in the workshop by 7am with four other members.

The group had cut and assembled 10 coffins by 5pm that day.

On Saturday, the coffins were sanded down and painted - first with an undercoat, followed by paint and an overcoat.

The lining for the coffins is set to arrive tomorrow and the finished products are due to be shipped next week.