What do you need?

 

Almost four  years ago, I rang someone from a local women’s refuge.

She came to get what I had. I told her I had a wide social media network and asked her: what do you need? Her face lit up, and out it spilled….

It was a simple question, and it has led to enriching relationships, valuable insights and my heart’s passion.

 

I’ve been an Aunty all my life. I come from a blended family with much older siblings, so from an early age I was not only technically an Aunty, but an active one. I helped to raise one of my nieces, and I have always been a source of advice and love for my many nieces, and nephews.

As I have grown older, those things were less needed, and I found myself being the “naughty Aunty” – the subversive one, swimming naked and encouraging my nieces not to be ashamed of their bodies. But I saw them less and less, and they’re all adults now anyway.

What’s an Aunty to do?

Well, fabulously, also as I’ve grown older, I became a source of Aunty wisdom to the families of the children I teach. I’ve always taught in communities where néed was great – refugee and migrant communities where people live on very little and hold much love and respect for the Aunties in their lives. And as I worked in these communities, it dawned on me very slowly. It wasn’t the kids who were in need of an aunty figure, it was the mums. Struggling, some unsure of where to turn.

The other thing I’ve always had a big heart for is social justice, and in my work these concepts of advocating for young mums, and looking after them, intersected.

I had always advocated that kids come from families and if you don’t look after families then social problems deepen.

And so back to that simple question.

What do you need?

 

Because it has been my experience, that we don’t ask people what they need. We often don’t ask them anything. We give. We assume. We judge.

We walk past a homeless person on the street – do I give them money? Won’t they just spend it on drugs?

We give money to an organisation, a charity, not often to individuals because we can’t be sure that money will go where it SHOULD go. Education, food, shoes. Whatever.

But nobody ever asks a person: What do you need? Ask for anything, and I’ll try my best to get it for you. I don’t care why you want it, I don’t care what you do with it. If you say you need it, I believe you. That’s the basis of the Aunties. No judgement, all compassion. Just doing the do.

 

At first, I used Twitter to relay needs to my social media networks and initially I was helping out just one woman who was resident at the refuge. I went to the refuge for the first time and one of the women said to me “Thank you for being our friend”. I was taken aback. Of course! These women needed a friend. And then my best friend of 33 years died. My world exploded, and as I took time to lick my wounds, I knew that if I was to support the women in any sustainable way, other people had to be involved. And the Aunties (Twitter Aunties, now The Aunties) were born.

 

Why Aunties? At first, I used the name because I’m not a mum, and my role in life seemed to be that of an Aunty. A friend, an advocate, a mentor, listener, adviser, a shoulder to cry on. Not interested in why, more invested n how. Big heart, big compassion, practical know how. That’s what an Aunty looked like to me.

So I actively sought out people – and they actively sought me out – who fit this criteria. I would have conversations with people I didn’t know and ask them – do you want to be an Aunty? Sometimes the answer was no, sometimes the answer has been an overcoming yes! Not everybody is cut out to be an Aunty. I have always recognised that, for whatever reason, for some people it’s just too big an ask. Always when I’m asking, I know that the question I’m really asking people is: what do you need? It’s okay not to need my brand of social justice. And it’s okay to need to do what you can, when you can, as you feel able to do it.

 

So the last few years this group of people – the Aunties – has expanded in number. And as each new person gives something – clothes, shoes, money, a heater – the heart of The Aunties has grown. More and more people aren’t just offering things to me, they are asking: what do you need?

 

I ask the women when I go to the refuge: what do you need? And they tell me.

I ask the refuge staff: what do you need? And they tell me.

I ask people who I can see need something. What do you need?

 

And they tell me.

 

In my experience, if you just ask people what they need, and you follow up on that, they come to trust you. They may not know exactly what they need right at that moment, but it’s the start of the conversation.

When they trust you, and if you tell them that they can ask for whatever they want, they are more likely to tell you exactly what it is that they need.

And so it goes.

 

And in the asking of that question to other people, I’ve learned to ask myself that question, and found that what I needed was to do more Auntying. Because the thing about need, and building relationships in order to meet it, is that you come to realise that, at base, we all just have some basic needs. To be loved, to be listened to, to be seen.

And so in striving to fill need, I have myself answered my own question of what I need.

I have sold my house.

I have quit my job.

I’m going to be a full time Aunty.

What the Aunties Did: August 2016

Thanks to you – your donations of dollars, and your donations of stuff – this is what the Aunties did this August.

When women leave unsafe places, they often leave with nothing. This month we were able to buy $1000 worth of Gift Cards to give to women in the Refuge (or who are leaving Refuge) to buy things they need from the Warehouse. And we bought $750 worth of Pak’n’Save vouchers to help women fill their cupboards when they leave Refuge, and for women in the community who have nothing and are finding it difficult to leave. We also helped some women to pay their power and phone bills, and another woman was able to get her door fixed.

One woman needed to get out of Auckland quickly and go to a safe city further south so we gave her $300 to help tide her over, and we got her some KFC for dinner before she left.

Something we feel particularly thrilled about is that, by collaborating with a very kind and generous dentist, we helped one of the women from Refuge get her teeth repaired. She now has the most remarkable smile. Costs were partly covered by ACC and then the dentist donated her time. Aunty Phil went with her to the appointments, and we sent a bunch of flowers to the dentist afterwards to say thank you. The refuge will be using this dentist from now on and we will cover any costs incurred. This need occurs only a few times a year.

Aunty Phil also visited WINZ with one of the women to advocate for her, and help her navigate those difficult waters with great success.

The Aunties made a contribution of $300 towards one of the women attending an Outward Bound course, and we bought a reconditioned laptop for a mother who is focused on getting back into work and needed a computer to do this. We also managed to find another second-hand laptop for Auntie Jackie so she can continue to do all the online stuff the Aunties requires.

And of course we bought food for the Refuge. We also spent $58 on mosaic tiles for the women’s art therapy, and summer seeds for the Refuge garden. And on Mondays, when Auntie Jackie visits the Refuge to talk with the women about what they need, she takes delicious treats with her to make it as much fun as possible. This is when Jackie gets those lists of things – the shoes, warm coats, duvets, rugby balls, hair-straighteners, knickers and so forth – that so many of you generously provide.

So those are some of the things you helped the Aunties do this August. Nga mihi nui!

If you’d like to help us help the refuge, and bring some joy and dignity to  the women and kids who live there, and families in the refuge community, as well as other beautiful humans, you can do that here.

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