Embraced by ‘group of strangers’

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Dunedin Multi-Ethnic Council president Paul Gourlie has felt an outpouring of love and support from the community since Friday’s devastating events in Christchurch.

Paul Gourlie

“The first I heard about it was when a group of strangers came up to me in the street, hugged me, and said that I would be OK,” he said.

Mr Gourlie, who is himself a Muslim, has been working to support fellow members of the multi-ethnic council directly affected by the attack. He has also been involved in events at Dunedin’s Al Huda mosque, and has been meeting the Dunedin City Council.

This is in stark contrast to what he planned to be doing this week, which was enjoying a busy programme of community gathering, celebrations, forums, and talks for Dunedin Race Relations Week, March 16 to 25.

While many events are going ahead as planned, some were changed or cancelled.

“For me, Race Relations Week has taken on an even greater importance, and people should take part if they feel comfortable doing so,” he said.

Saturday’s planned powhiri at Araiteuru Marae became a memorial event, which was attended by about 140 people.

Tonight’s civic vigil will replace the inaugural Dunedin Race Relations Week forum. A gathering at the peace pole in the Otago Museum Reserve will go ahead at noon to mark International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination.

A forum planned for 1pm will instead become a vigil outside the staff club at the university’s Memorial Bridge.

The Dunedin Race Relations Week closing celebration will be held at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum on Monday.

A community picnic also planned for Monday at Woodhaugh Gardens would no longer be a planned event.

“However, if people want to bring a blanket and their lunch, they are welcome to do so,” he said.