A storyteller at heart

November 30, 2020

Christine Lee believes in the power of storytelling to build acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities.

“Telling stories contributes to understanding in the community, because cultural change takes time,” she says. “You have got to keep telling people’s stories so that it becomes the norm.”

Christine, a former teacher from Matamata, is probably a storyteller at heart and a natural-born advocate. “I do advocate for people, but I think probably my strength is bringing people along and trying to find out their story, the challenges they face and their achievements.”

She has edited the IHC Waikato South Association’s magazine Chatterbox for the past 15 or so years. “People love to tell me their stories and they love to give me their photographs.”

Christine became IHC’s newest New Zealand Life Member in September. She has always encouraged a strong emphasis on self-advocacy. Christine first became involved with IHC at a local level by supporting a self-advocate and became a member of the national IHC Advocacy Committee in 2004. She chaired the committee from 2010 to 2013. She served as an IHC New Zealand Board Member from 2006 to 2013, and as New Zealand Vice President from 2010 to 2013.

Christine joined the IHC Matamata Area Committee in the mid-1990s. She has a nephew with an intellectual disability and had a strong empathy with the work of the organisation. 

In 1998 she began attending Waikato South Branch meetings and became President in 2003, a job she held for the next eight years, seeing members smoothly through the changes from branch to IHC Waikato South Association before handing over the reins in 2011. She received an IHC Distinguished Service Award that year.

Christine has helped to create a culture of inclusion in Waikato South. People with intellectual disabilities are always the centre of Association events, and this year’s Annual General Meeting included lunch, singing and a dance party featuring a ukulele band.

Former IHC Chair Donald Thompson, who presented Christine with her IHC New Zealand Life Membership, said she had always been held in the highest esteem for her commitment, warmth and generosity and her determination to make a difference to people with intellectual disabilities.

Christine knows families are feeling the stress of the past year with COVID-19 and the review of services. “The gains happen step by step and sometimes we lose sight of the gains that we have made. But let’s not forget how far we have come,” she says.

Above: IHC New Zealand Life Member Christine Lee and Waikato South Association Chair Keith Rea celebrate at the IHC Waikato South Annual General Meeting.