Aunty *A – a love letter

I want to tell you about Aunty *A. They are a person I love very much, and they are going on a big adventure very soon, so this is my way of paying tribute to them.

Aunty *A came into my life a few years ago. They mean the world to me, because at a time when I lost my way, they were there, and they have helped me to be the very best me I can be, and they keep me centred in a way nobody else has ever been able to.

Aunty *A  is an integral part of The Aunties, has advised me, warned me, counselled me, and moderated me all the way to here. They have heart, compassion and wisdom. They have calm, and tranquillity, and thoughtfulness. Sometimes their calm is maddening, but I always listen.

Aunty *A is a finer human being than most human beings I have met, and it is because of them that I stand tall, sure in my knowledge and heart.

Aunty *A and I know what it is to live with domestic violence. And both Aunty *A and I have struggled back from that brink. We know what this is. We see each other. We feel each other. We hear each other. We love each other.

I love you Aunty *A.

Forever and always.

Women’s Refuge Appeal Month

July  is Women’s Refuge Appeal month.  All refuges are run independently, and funded independently and they all need your donations. You can either give to the national organisation National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges – this is a national advocacy and lobbying group to which most refuges in NZ are affiliated. They work tirelessly to raise awareness of domestic violence and advocate for women and children escaping family violence in New Zealand.

You can also choose to donate to individual women’s refuges. As I said, all are run independently – most are charitable trusts – and funded independently. All receive funding from the Ministry of Social Development, but all struggle to get by and survive, and only do so through donations and grants applied for. The work I do is fairly unusual in that usually donations are coordinated by refuge staff, and as you can imagine, they have to expend precious time doing this and their other important work as well. They really do need all the help they can get, and money is the biggest way you can help them.

You can either ring them and get their bank account details – most can be found here. There are 54 refuges listed on the Women’s Refuge NZ website, and there are others, in NZ, that are not affiliated to NWCIR and are not on that page. Most women’s refuges  contact details can be found simply by googling or looking in the phone book.

Some women’s refuges have givealittle pages or fundraising links on websites and so I thought it may be useful to have those links for you here. I’ll add more throughout the month. A useful place to start is Healthpages – most refuges are listed here.

Auckland Women’s Refuge Collective

Tauranga Women’s Refuge

The Aunties – raising donations for Te Whare Marama, and to provide sustainable support for marginalised and vulnerable people.

Shakti – Ethnic Women’s Refuges

Kaitaia Women’s Refuge

Whare Manaaki – Porirua Women’s Refuge

Taranaki Women’s Refuge

Hastings Women’s Refuge

AvivaFamilies – Chch Women’s Refuge

West Chch Women’s Refuge


Te Puea Big Day Out

i am just home from the most wonderful day and I’m still just processing it all, but I wanted you all to know about the amazing people I spent today with.

It’s no secret that I spend a very little time at Te Puea Marae. Sometimes they tell me what’s really needed that’s a bit unusual – stuff that nobody would think to donate like rubbish bags, that sort of thing. And so, what’s happened, is I’ve started to build up relationships with some of the people down there who are all, it should be said, volunteers, and who are using their Marae as the front door to social services for people who otherwise wouldn’t access those services or have difficulty getting a foot in the door. Homeless people. Living in cars. Most are families, some small, some large.

The people who work regularly at the Marae are themselves beautiful people, and so when I suggested I take all the whānau on the trip, they were more than willing to allow that to happen. I had never met any of the whānau living at the Marae.  Because of this, I’d also asked Marae staff if they would come, at least 2 or 3 of them so that the whānau wouldn’t feel too shy, and at least have familiar faces along for the ride.

So this morning, I went along a little early so I could meet everyone, talk to them a bit beforehand about what was going on, and together we waited for the bus to arrive. I finally met a few people from the Marae I hadn’t yet met – Huri, the backbone of the whole thing, a gentle and lovely man, gracious and kind. Moko, who I had talked to for quite a while via social media, and who I would consider somewhat of a sister. The mood was upbeat, though the older kids were putting on a bit of a front. But I saw them, the way they cared for the younger children, how solicitous and gracious they were. We seemed to be waiting a long time, so I rang the bus driver, and I mention this only because he was to become a very important part of the day. Finally, the bus arrived, we all got on, found our seats and I got talking to Nanny L, a retired social worker who volunteers at the Marae 3 days a week. A woman who knows her stuff. We had a really great chat about her career, about working with kids, and about how using kaupapa Māori had been a really important and effective part of her practice. I sat with a little tiny girl who had the sweetest smile and loved being able to see everything out the window.

We went to Kelly Tarltons, and the staff there were so kind and lovely. And we changed the timetable – I went to see Barry our bus driver who was waiting for us the entire time and asked if we could go to a park and eat lunch. He was incredibly flexible, and accommodating with everything I asked of him. Lovely man.

Lunch was had, a veritable feast put together by the Marae staff and parents the night before. I got talking to a few of the parents, we watched the kids play touch, it was all so lovely. We went to Mission Bay. We ate icecream, and we got on the bus and Barry took the long way home so that the kids could see a bit more of this big city.

And then, home.

I am left with this. I have never,  in twenty years of teaching and knowing thousands of parents, ever seen such gentle, mindful and peaceful parenting. Such love and grace. I was stunned by it. They have, all of them, lived in dire circumstances for prolonged periods of time – I had thought they would be stressing, and factious. But all I felt from them was the most extraordinary peacefulness. Calm. Unharried. Some of the kids were arguing as kids do. There was only hugs and love, and reminders to be careful of one another’s feelings. I’m sure there must be times of distress and where that grace is tested, but I never saw it all day. What extraordinary people, and what a privilege to spend time with them. As I said to them, I show you some light, you show me some light, we all benefit.

And we did.

I won’t forget today or these people for a very long time, and I’m determined that we do this again. Spend time with each other, just being. What a pleasure.

Thank you all for the chance to do this – Gloria, Alec, Kelly Tarltons, James, The Aunties, the whānau of Te Puea Marae, Huri, Johnboi, Moko, Martha, Whitiao, Lorna, Jenny, Mata, Tom, Mona. All of you.

We built something today.

The Aunties: the first meeting of the Board of Trustees

Last night, something happened that I hadn’t imagined happening ever,  in the last 3 years. I didn’t start this with any set plan in place, let alone any plans at all. And as we went on, I started to realise that this is what I wanted to do. I originally involved other people, started calling them the Aunties a long time ago now, in the scheme of things, and things have expanded at a faster rate than I had expected.

I started thinking about formalising what we do, making us a charity. You need board members right? So six months ago, I asked particular people if they would do that. It started with a discussion with Michele A’Court – will you be the chairperson? I asked.. She accepted because, let’s face it, I promised her she could bang a gavel. I asked my friend Phil, who has so much heart for this work. I asked my friend Julie, who has the experience and nous needed for these things, I asked Elaine because she’s level headed, is good at numbers and equally good at keeping people focused, I asked my friends J and M who have supported me in this venture in ways you don’t need to know about and that they’d rather I didn’t tell you about. I asked Uncle Paul, who’s an avuncular chap, experienced in governance, and of course, there’s my V, who’s been with me pretty much from day one, advising and counselling me, with wisdom and compassion. I knew we needed a lawyer, and a friend I love dearly is experienced in these matters, so I talked to her and she’s onboard with steering us in the right direction. Exciting. But still, theory, and a wee way off, yes? I have a lot going on so I thought it may take a while.

But. I don’t like to wait and so we organised, all of us, that we would have our first Aunties meeting. Getting closer. I could feel it. Were we ready?

So. Last night something happened, something I hadn’t imagined happening, ever. There was a meeting of the people who will be the trustees of The Aunties. A coming together. I knew everyone, of course, but some didn’t know each other. We got started pretty much straight away and Phil and Julie started taking notes and filling in the application to become a charity. We talked about our kaupapa, we talked about the structure, we answered the questions as they arose and pondered some that hadn’t. I learned some things – we can’t be called Aunties Inc and if we fold the funds have to go to another charity (fairly obvious which one). We ate pizza, we talked more. I asked them to talk about why they were attracted to this work, and the answers were so valuable. And I cried. Because something I had never even imagined would happen, was happening. Right in front of me. Beautiful people, with enormous hearts, just wanting to do something, and thank the stars my something sang to them. Julie spoke of the concept that the Ancient Greeks had, and I forget the name of it but as she was speaking it spoke to me – the idea that when you help others to find their light, you find yours.

So there we have it – another meeting will be held in a couple of weeks so that we can talk more about the rules, and attach necessary documents to the application. And, as I said last night, this goes from being sustained support of the women in the refuge to something bigger. A vehicle to support people, a vehicle that relies on relationships, love and trust. A vehicle for showing humans the hearts of other humans. Humans holding hands and loving and cherishing other humans.

The dream is real, made manifest. And it’s happening. Right now.