Embraced by a message greater than me.

New Zealand Soroptimists treasure their Korowai (Cloak) as a symbol of their commitment to the Soroptimist mission. The cloak has a name: “Te Amo Oranganui Ki Te Ao”, which means “The Bearer of Wellbeing to the World.”

Wearing Te Amo Oranganui Ki Te Ao
at the 2011 SI Convention in Montreal.

The background story:

Small town New Zealand is safe. That’s why we live there. Tragedy is keenly felt and one that affected Waitara, a town of 4000, was distressing for the whole country and intensely so for the town.

The Soroptimist club of Waitara recognised the pain of the women of the community who felt they had no voice. They called a gathering, and created a safe environment in which the women could talk, share their grief and look at ways of moving forward. It was a significant move towards real healing and peace.

A group of local weavers offered to create a Korowai (traditional Māori cloak) for our organization in recognition of what Soroptimists do.  This is a great acknowledgement and honour. The cloak took three years, 3000 hours to make. There are 8000 feathers from native birds, and every feather has been sewn individually with 8 stitches. It was a labour of love and respect. Our korowai was formally presented to Soroptimists at the SI South West Pacific Federation conference in Wellington in 2004.

Name and its significance:

The cloak has a name: “Te Amo Oranganui Ki Te Ao” which means “The Bearer of Wellbeing to the World.” Naming such a treasure gives it special significance.  The cloak is the bearer – it attracts people to it and the wearer can then tell the story: the Soroptimist message of human rights and peace.

The more it is worn the more prestige it draws into itself. That gives strength to the purpose of the cloak. 

The cloak can be worn at any occasion of significance – weddings, graduation, conferences, and club celebrations. It was worn at a memorial service to honour the passing of a true Soroptimist. I wore Te Amo at CSW meetings, Federation conventions and conferences , the SI conventions in Montreal and Istanbul. The cloak is worn by the highest ranking New Zealand Soroptimist on any occasion and it gives her the strength and responsibility to carry the message of peace. It is not about the wearer; it is about the message.

Te Amo embraced me when I chaired my first Board Meeting in 2015

The cloak started out with a simple design – it was going to be made of flax with a feather trim. It grew and developed over time to have greater detail and symbolism. This reminds me of the many Soroptimist projects that start as one person’s vision, a simple project and because it met a need it grew into a major project that touched many lives.

The symbolic significance of the colours and design:

Soroptimist colours of blue and gold are incorporated in the design. The blue base of the cloak represents the horizon of the Pacific Rim.

The two panels up the back are not straight and that reflects the imperfections of mankind. This is our humanity.

The crossover in the front represents the many challenges we have to overcome to strive for peace and unity.

Accompanying the cloak is a bone carving of a Taniwha (a supernatural creature in Māori tradition, similar to serpents and dragons in other cultures who hide in the ocean, rivers, lakes or caves. This carved Taniwha protects the wearer as she travels).

A kete (small bag) which symbolizes knowledge is also carried. Te Amo was woven in peace, knowing that if we share our baskets of knowledge we will bring greater goodwill and understanding amongst all people.  We are asked to wear it with humility and to know that we are loved because it was woven with love.

The charter of the club in Jerusalem – a symbol of hope. The club has Christian, Muslim and Jewish members. “The Bearer of Wellbeing to the World” added to the ceremony.

The feathers are woven into flax. As a natural fibre the flax (Harakeke) is stiff and only by being worn often it softens and becomes more comfortable to wear. Any activity or responsibility taken on for the first time stretches us out of our comfort zones. Only with practice does the position holder become comfortable.

A special moment 2011

We registered to attend the launch of the new entity, UN Women, which was held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall. I was abuzz with excitement and anticipation for the thrill of being there. In preparation I packed the beautiful  korowai to bring it on the journey. I knew Te Amo had to be in New York when we launched the entity that held so much hope for women worldwide. I was therefore disappointed to learn that some of us had been sidelined into a secondary room for the ceremony.

I pondered to myself if I would be honouring the spirit of the cloak if it was not to the fore. It proved to be a dilemma I did not have because generously my friend and sister Soroptimist and then International Programme Director, Dawn Marie Lemonds from SI Americas, swapped her ticket with mine unbeknown to me. I was humbled by such generosity of spirit. Te Amo and I could be there and share and celebrate.

Te Amo lived up to her role – she attracted women who wanted to know more about such a beautiful cloak and why I was wearing it. It gave me the opportunity to share our Soroptimist vision.

I look back at this time and the profound effect Dawn Marie’s generosity had on me. There was no way I could repay her … except to be inspired to give generously myself.

Te Amo is like our Soroptimist badge – when we wear it we attract others to inquire of its significance. This gives us the opportunity to share our vision and mission and bring about change. Being a Soroptimist is not about personalities. It is about our mission to educate, empower and enable women and girls reach their potential. It is our vision we need to share to bring about our goals to make a difference. When I wear my badge I carry in my mind the message and symbolism of Te Amo.

Author: Yvonne Simpson

This blog shares my leadership journey and my passion for educating to lead.

2 thoughts on “Embraced by a message greater than me.”

  1. Thank you again Yvonne for such an inspiring message. You have captured well the significance of material objects and how we grant them their own agency and potency. ‘The Social life of things’ is one of my favourite ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s that quote – you (SI) are more than the sum of yourselves. Badly paraphrased, I know, but you definitely get it. Heart felt words that carried more than even this message. Thanks Yvonne.


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