Transcript and supporting video from Kenny Ardouin’s leaving speech, December 2015
10 and a half years – it’s longer than most marriages. And like a marriage, it’s definitely had its ups and downs – times when it is the most euphoric thing ever, and sometimes where you need a bit more convincing. But I think that is life really. A series of dizzying highs and lows with periods of relative normal in between. Fortunately though, I can honestly say, there have been far more of the highs than the lows in my time here, and it is a sad feeling to be moving on.
Often, it is in the strangest of circumstances that we meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people, and this organisation has plenty of those. People who may come from a variety of different backgrounds, but are united by their passion for the cause and contribute in their own ways, whether that be by being a board member, helping out with coffee groups, telling us when something doesn’t seem right with cleft care in your region, donating bottles to our international programme, sewing arm splints together, coming on our youth camp, turning out for the roadshow, manning a Barbie on Awareness Day, being a health professional, being here today. By doing these things, you are all doing your part towards our purpose of empowering people affected by cleft in New Zealand, and towards achieving our vision of creating a future where people understand difference and value the unique contribution individuals make. We are a group that welcomes difference and challenges inequity. I am proud to be part of an organisation that nurtures ideas and talents, that doesn’t treat you any differently based on what you look like, what belief system or lack thereof you happen to subscribe to, how old you are or whether you have one or two X chromosomes – perhaps if more organisations around the world adopted our vision, we would not be a world in turmoil. But we’re doing our bit – in these challenging times, it is the strong feeling and support of a loving community which will overcome discrimination and hatred – and we have that right here. You’re you, and we support you to just be you – it’s what you do best, and it’s what our children do best. Sometimes you just need someone to provide you a bit of encouragement and affirmation that you may not be perfect, but you’re perfectly imperfect, and that is so much better than striving to be perfect – a goal that no-one has ever managed to achieve. Strive to be good and do good, but don’t strive to be perfect.
Now, no-one does 10 years somewhere without a few stories to tell. When I first started out in 2005, my ambition was to see something offered for young people such as myself. I was quick to learn in this organisation, that if you suggest an idea, that you will sooner or later find yourself being the one spearheading such an idea! I soon found myself with my own website for kids and teenagers and being a youth supporter, with my face and story immortalized in thousands of blue books nationwide. I got to meet Gareth Morgan before he found a new passion in culling cats, at the blue book launch in 2006 where he shared his story of growing up with a cleft and mooted this idea that we need to be doing more to support the people who were born with a cleft. I got to meet many other young people over the years, and by 2009 Cleft NZ had its first youth event at Rainbows End in Auckland facilitated by a very eccentric man called David Garb, who offered me a lift home once I got back to Christchurch in his BMW which he only used for commuting to the airport he told me. As he took me a rather strange way home, saying “I know a faster way”, I couldn’t help but worry I was being kidnapped. In 2010, I had the privilege of doing an address at the launch of the new Cleft New Zealand, and winning the support, but in his case, hopefully not the heart, of Len Brown. In 2012, on the Cleft NZ roadshow, I made a rather embarrassing faux pas on the ferry across to Wellington. My travelling companion was feeling rather seasick and as the caring friend I was, I thought I’d make him feel a little more nauseous. I had noticed that the boat appeared to travel a lot quicker when looking out the sides than out the front so as we walked along the boat I yelled out to him “hey, if you want to feel sick, look left.” Tragically, on his left was a rather large lady eating a burger who immediately thought I was talking about her, I had to hide for the rest of the voyage and hope the roadshow didn’t get anymore publicity or else this lady would see, and expose me as a fraudster who verbally assaults people minding their own business on the ferry. Many say that I have a way with words that makes me easy to talk to. Sometimes it can get me in trouble when I don’t recognize double-entendres. On the first camp in 2013, at first I did not understand why people found it so funny when I said to a group of teenagers “I’ll lead at the front, and don’t worry, because John will be taking up the rear.” Despite all the shenanigans along the way though, it has been incredibly worthwhile and a lot of fun. Many of you thank me for my contribution, but I would like to thank all of you for trusting me to help steer this organisation – I hope you are happy with where the organisation has come to. I would like to thank you for this opportunity – it has made me who I am today – I was New Zealand’s youngest charity CEO when I took over the role – and it feels odd to be leaving the thing that I am known for.
Although it is sad to be leaving, I also am very excited for the future of Cleft New Zealand. I have had the pleasure this week of working with the new board – Kylie, Ian, Jaime and Kristen, and the new General Manager, Natasha who I am confident will continue to steer the organisation in the right direction and make their mark on the organisation and on the lives of everyone affected by cleft in New Zealand as have so many others before them. I wish them all the very best in their new roles and trust you will show them the same support you have afforded to me.
There are many people who I owe thanks to for their support and help, which I will do in my own way at a separate point in time. However, today, Saturday 5th of December is International Volunteer Appreciation Day, and there is one person who deserves a special acknowledgment and that is Louise Ayrey. Lou has been the other half of this organisation for a long time now and too is stepping down today, and works incredibly hard, often in the background, and is essential to what has been a two man band in many ways. I have not achieved things, rather we have achieved things. I take my hat off to Lou, busily involved in family life, a demanding job, yet always made the time to support me and this organisation – late at nights, on weekends, over Christmases, birthdays, anniversary weekends – Lou would see my name on caller ID, probably curse my name, but would answer the phone and help me out, and to that end, I should thank Pete too for putting up with that and to you both for so kindly welcoming me into your home whenever I am in Auckland. We have shared frustrations, had disagreements, but also more commonly laughed and worked bloody hard together on things that hopefully will lead to a brighter future for people affected by cleft. I’d like to finish up by playing a short video featuring some of the events of the last 10 years. The music track is one that I learned about when sitting with Lou and her children Ted, Mae and Henry at the table a couple of years back with some plastic cups and attempting to imitate the music video for this particular song. I think the lyrics also are fitting – I will miss the entire Cleft New Zealand community when I’m gone.
And lastly, as you encounter many of life’s ups and downs, don’t let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world.