It is my extraordinary privilege to have curated a group of people, in the last three years, I call the Aunties. Some have been involved with my refuge work from the beginning, and some are recent arrivals. Irregardless, they are all beautiful souls and I appreciate them so much. Most are met via Twitter, some email me out of the blue, some are friends of friends, or family members of friends/Aunties. Whoever they are, they are important. They often don’t understand how important they are, and some feel like they do very little. But I don’t really care how much they do for me, for the women, for the refuge. They’re doing, and that counts.
Also important, to me, is why they help me. Why they get involved with the Aunties in the first place, and what keeps them donating stuff/money/time/love and support. A couple of days ago, I was asked if I would speak at an event. I had to bring together some thoughts, and to help me do that, I asked the Aunties – via email, and via Twitter – if they would answer these three questions:
What is it that drew you in?
Why are you an Aunty?
Why do you continue to support this work?
I had quite a number of responses, and having decided not to speak at this event, I wondered if they would mind me sharing them here, with you. Testimonials, if you will. Their responses cheered me, answered questions I have had for a while, and moved me greatly.
They have agreed and so I present them to you, largely unedited. They are all anonymous, there are no identifying details contained within. They all tell us something about kindness and generosity, about the human spirit, about the heart and state of a nation. They tell me so much about pain, and struggle, and coming out the other side. They tell us that we are human, we are loved and loveable, we are enough and perhaps, just maybe, we can make others feel that way too. I’ll be adding Aunties voices as they turn up in my inbox, so keep checking back.
If you’d like to be an Aunty, all you need to do is email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. You can go on the emailing list, I’ll email you every Monday, and that’s it. I expect nothing from anyone – I just put it out there in the universe and it comes back in so very many ways. Whether you’re a cheerleader, a financial donor, or you give stuff or time, you give what you can when you can. It all counts. It all means a great deal.
“You are a great communicator, you articulate what’s needed and why in a straight forward way, it never comes across as judgemental, hectoring or demanding – a direct ask, acceptance and warmth.”
“I don’t have much to offer but when I do I offer it in a range of areas b’c I believe people, not governments, make a difference. Also kindness is awesome.Why would you not? It feels worse when I can’t help.It’s good work and it’s needed and I know it’s underfunded and I have to try somehow.”
“importance of the work b) direct connection (we give $, you buy groceries) c) these women and kids MATTER”
“because I had stuff I didn’t need and you had people who needed it. Perfect”
” I remember vividly the day I was a solo mum with 4 kids and not much and someone arrived with donated goods.”
“because I would like to think that is a thing. People help when they can. People have helped me”
“have or can get stuff no longer needed but good for more use. Is a good way to be involved but not”
“because I had stuff that we had loved and used & had helped our family. I wanted someone else to love it longer & help them too. I think because you are so personable and friendly. Also because you knew exactly where they were going & I trusted you”
“Word of mouth. You are beloved by people I trust.”
” Because if I were ever in need, I would hope someone would come to my aid. Generosity should be our default position.”
- “It’s a great way to recycle things we have loved & used.
- We don’t need the money from selling our things. Giving to you is easy.
- Important to begin to restore women’s faith in humanity – easy to lose after being brutalised by someone you loved & trusted
- because even if their partner did not value them, we do.
- Because like subverting the idea that Twitter full of awful people bullies, shows Twitter is also a place people come together to make change #bethechange
- You provide an amazing service for those of us who want to help but aren’t able to volunteer our time”
“Because you make it personal – an actual community, not just a hypothetical one. And because you communicate the huge amount of actual work that others are doing and the time they are giving. Given what you and others are putting in, giving a little to help you and others in that work is a compelling case. Those are the bits that set apart giving to the Aunties compared with other refuges/centres”
“because it’s as quiet and sneaky as I want to be, and I can dip in and out with my involvement as funds/energy/life allows, ‘cause I’m pretty invisible doing it, I’m also invisible not doing it, which means that no one judges or knows when I can’t help”
“women supporting women & I like the informality yet structure if that makes sense. Easy for busy ppl like me to help”
“the way you tell their stories makes it very real honest, help when I can “
“believed in what you were doing and felt personally connected (in a non-threatening way).Also, you made it really easy . Central point of contact”
“meeting the women a few times & those that keep things moving gave me more of a personal “stake” “
“All the reasons given by others + a strong sense of trust in you personally + the name #whaeapower = aspirational, hopeful, real”
“a desire to support you personally – translates to if u say it’s good then it must be #trust“
“Maybe because I’ve married into a community that has seen poverty, oppression, violence & disfunction, I’m painfully aware of what’s out there and how great the needs are. I don’t need to be told, I know the needs are real, I trust you to tell us what that means on a weekly basis. I can translate what I’ve seen here and in other countries mostly with indigenous communities. So what drew me in was the truth of the request, the bottomless pit of need. A way to give something to those who need help. A way to ease my own guilt and pain at the inequity in our society, a failing that I can’t fix. The job is never done. People like you keep reminding us, putting the open sores in front of our eyes so we can’t turn away. That’s why we have to continue.”
“There but for the grace of God go I” is the concept that springs to mind when i think of the Aunties and the refuge. The idea that if things were different you could be the one that needs the help. And therefore if you are in a position to offer the help, you should. (From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs) Except, and this is where the weird and contradictory comes in, I don’t accept that “God’s Grace” is why I’m not beaten black and blue by some arsehole, and someone else is. That God goes – you, you deserve a belting, but you, you’re sweet. I lay all that crap at the feet of men (and I mean men in the broadest sense – humankind – but also, lets be honest, men too) Actually maybe it’s more Billy Bragg: I’m for “organised compassion” in any and all forms. And the thing with the Aunties is that you give according to your ability – time, money, whatever, there’s no EXPECTATION there”s just what you can do with the energy/will/resources/personal priorities at your disposal”
“What is it that drew you in? A referral and then a review of the amazing things that were being accomplished using social media for the good for a change. So many “charities” (for won’t of a better word) just ask for one off cash injections whereas you were offering up a chance to form a relationship and follow individual “projects”(again, for won’t of a better word) through. Why are you an Aunty? I am a DV survivor myself and thank my lucky fucking stars every day that I have left that behind. I want to do all I can to help in some small way women going through the same.Why do you continue to support this work? I have supported refuges in the past few years but have only ever dropped goods off to a doorstep and never even met the contact I was gifting them to. With Jackie I have been able to become familiar with the people also helping out and do things like shop for the refuge and donate where and when it is needed. It has given me an insight into what – and how – things need to be done and that, quite honestly, has been such a gift.”
“For me a connection through you, sometimes names and needs spell out what’s going on in someone’s life, complete absence of dogoodery. Shared input on hard decisions. Sometimes just cos it’s easy to give and act. I like the network feeling, bit like the elastic in a trampoline.”
“I am not able to be as much of a contributer as I would like. Small baby, limited income. I do reasonably often take possession of things (not illegally, haha) that I think I could donate or hand on to people who may need it. I come from a long line of women who are compelled to try to help others. Especially women and children. I watched my grandmother do meals on wheels. My Aunty took in children whose parents needed help. My sister is a social worker, has worked with the homeless and battered women’. My mum is a nurse in mental health. We have all felt the need to help where we can. I would like to foster when my daughter gets a bit bigger. I bake and cook meals for friends when they are struggling, I have offered my home to those who need a space. I think there are LOTS of Women who want to help but need to be shown where their gap can be to squeeze in and bring something for someone else. I love The Aunties because even though I am a little stuck in my situation I can feel involved and help when I can. I am also aware of my privilege, but also that it doesn’t take much for things to spiral out of control, financially, mentally, socially and I could end up needing help from others.”
“I like to support because it’s a tangible thing you do, you literally take the help/items/funds to the people that need it.”
“It’s obvious you care – your passion is so clear in your communication out to everyone. I worked in charities for years and was so jaded by what I saw in some places, your Aunties work is completely different – just focussed on what as a group of people we can do to help another group of people. I wish I could donate more often.”
“What is it that drew you in? Initially, anger at the government for cutting funding to refuge services, mental health services and continuing to support the alcohol industry (which as we know is a fundamental contributor to family violence). Knowing that you can do a small amount to support the victims of this much much larger social issue is a way of fighting back, but also of damage control. So I guess it comes from a strong sense of social justice. Why are you an Aunty? I confess I don’t know much about the history of the Aunties, I’m a newby to this but it feels to me like a supportive community of strong minded people (mostly women I guess) who are driven by compassion. It feels good to be a part of that (albeit a small one). I have strong faith in compassion. Do no harm, be kind. And also I’ve been in a relationship with elements of emotional abuse, and once threatened with violence. These women could easily be me, if I’d continued down that track and not had the strength to get out of those relationships. Why do you continue to support this work? I acknowledge my own place of privilege in this world; a white, educated, working woman surrounded by loving family. I am in a position to be able to help, and therefore I think I have a responsibility to do so. Share the love! “
“I am drawn in because I can be anonymous – there is a huge challenge formost people in anonymity i.e. most people want/ need recognition for their philanthropy. I believe that it takes a high level of sophistication ( inthe real meaning of the word) to donate without recognition. I don’t mean tosound precious it is just something I aspire to and sometimes I don’t make the grade either, but I will continue to challenge myself in that.I am always blown away when someone dies leaving millions, and they havealready donated millions and we have never heard of them, and they do it through some third party so their identity can be protected. Some of the people who give linen and clothes to me to pass on want “thankyou notes” written ( as if I somehow have time for that); my response is that you have to give unconditionally. These people do not live by your rules, they do not have the same values, not better or worse just different and right at the moment being safe is there priority not whether the towels match.The other reason for me is that I do know these women ( and men ); I have seen and continue to see them in my daily work ( that is the nurse in me always wanting to “do for” rather than let people get on with it themselves). So it is part of the vocation still left in me.I am embarrassed that our wonderful country still produces such life experiences, especially for the children. I want to change that and do so in professional career but at times I need to have experiences personalised. Whaeapower gives me that! At the end of the day we all need reward, it comes in many different forms. Anonymity suits me at the moment.”
“A colleague asked me years ago why I was so concerned for the poor and disadvantaged and I had no clue how to answer him. I think it comes from inside you, so the only thing I can think of is that your childhood influences you a lot. It seems that nearly everyone who works in the domestic violence field has been personally affected by it. However, that is not particularly helpful in seeking to motivate people who haven’t been personally affected – though my view is that everyone is likely to have people close to them affected by domestic violence – some people just don’t know that. I guess I want everyone to have the same chances I and my siblings had. My father was an alcoholic who left us and my mother had no qualifications and 4 small children to bring up. We were lucky that it was the time before student loans, so we could afford to go to university and get qualifications that would enable us to get jobs. I have been involved with domestic violence for a long time – either acting for individual women or lobbying in the media and politically for change and writing articles to educate people eg about “Why doesn’t she leave.”I guess my main thing – about any issue – is that everyone can always do something. Maybe you can’t be a lawyer acting for domestic violence victims; maybe you can’t write submissions to politicians; maybe you can’t work in a refuge. But you can always do some little thing – and often those things might take only 5 minutes. You can give some clothes or other stuff; donate money; help with shopping. So if everyone looked for the little thing they CAN do, rather than saying it’s too big a problem, we could actually achieve a lot. Also, I think it’s good if you’re doing big picture work and sometimes you wonder if it is a waste of time and whether it will ever achieve anything – if you do something small for an individual person, you know you have at least achieved something for that person. Also, you never know the impact of what you do. Sometimes you do something that you think was a complete waste of time and didn’t achieve anything -but later you find out it was actually incredibly important for a particular person. I’ve had that with a couple of clients – I thought I had failed them but they thought what I did was really important to them. Also, just listening to people can be a contribution – lots of women have no-one who actually listens to them.”
“What drew me in?
It’s the feeling that you manage to invoke in me… To do what I can, and to help people that for some reason are unable to seek help from the system or don’t have the support from family/friends. You are the go between the women and the aunties… You are a doer. They have built a trusting relationship with you and you relay their needs to us in a way that is empathetic yet respectful. Everything you do is selfless and you are always putting their needs before your own.
I am an Aunty because I believe in paying it forward, plus there is never the pressure of having to do everything… I do what I can when I can and you have always appreciated my capacity of assistance no matter how big or small. Understanding and appreciating my past always makes me aware of how blessed I am. I feel that it is the right of everyone to have the basic necessities in life – to feel safe and loved.
I continue to support your work mainly because of the passion that you have for the cause and because of the relationship that we have. I believe in you, in your passion and admire the way you fight for what is just in society.
My love and friendship for you is enough to have my never ending support. I am happy also knowing that I may have made someones day by helping where I can. My Samoan heritage is such where I am used to giving where I can… It’s the Fa’a Samoa way. “
“Your stories on Twitter drew me in. Short sentences that are expressed clearly what you needed and why. The human stories of J, B or C, their children and their fears and hopes – real people that need help now. I can connect with that. What keeps me going is your updates about how it has helped individual J, B or C and their children, that there are more women every week and your inspirational ongoing compassion and kindness to everyone.”
“I’m an Auntie because I want to help. I don’t have much time or a large group of friends to call on but I can give you a small amount of money monthly to use on what ever you need most. ”
“Here are my answers to your questions
What is it that drew you in? A chance to make a difference where, honestly, it didn’t take any time, I didn’t have to think of ideas on how to help and lack of experience didn’t stop me from helping. Why are you an Aunty? Because my mother needed these sorts of services and my life would’ve been very different if she had got the sort of support, the refuge gives. If I can help another woman or child by contributing, then it kinda gives me a purpose and makes what I went through as a kid somehow worth it. It’s really hard to explain clearly. Why do you continue to support this work? To be able to make even a small difference, gives meaning to my life. It also makes me feel less selfish about the money I earn.”
- “The opportunity to help in a practical way.
- Because I would like to contribute something to society that makes a difference
- It’s an ongoing need
- On a practical level it is often a chance for me to dispose of my children’s used clothes in a way that someone else benefits. It’s also fulfils a need in me to live with purpose and to help another.”
“I can’t remember specifically what drew me in. Presumably I saw a tweet asking for help & I responded. I’m an Aunty because there’s a need & I’m fortunate enough to be able to help. I continue to help because the need for help hasn’t gone away & my ability to help hasn’t either. What’s in for me is the knowledge that I have (in whatever small way) been able to make someone else’s life a little better.”
“What is it that drew you in? The idea that we can help at a grassroots level, that it’s immediate, that there is no red tape and bureaucracy and ego. It’s just simply helping other woman. There is no agenda other than to do good. I love that there is no ‘charity’ collecting big administration fees, deciding who gets what and when and paying for volunteers to play God with people’s lives. Why are you an Aunty? Because I am a woman and want to help other woman in whatever small way I can. Because I believe these woman need a chance and because sometimes ‘process’ takes far too long. Because I remember what it’s like to live with violence, to be in despair, to have no money, and to feel like the world’s against you. I want all of these women to have an even platform. “
“What is it that drew you in?
I knew someone who knew you. I know what it’s like to see your mother get a hiding and it breaks my heart to think of children in this situation.
Why are you an Aunty?
As above, but also because it is grass roots – anything I can give goes straight to where it’s needed. You tell us the success stories. The need is real. And because our link person (you) is genuine, had a massive heart and has integrity.
Why do you continue to support this work?
Because of your integrity. Because I can help at a grass roots level. Because there is no judgment or pressure – I can help when I can and I can’t when I can’t and that’s OK.”
‘I was drawn to the Aunties because I felt that even though i couldn’t offer very much, no matter how big or small, I have helped in some way.
It can be so overwhelming the amount of negative things going on in the world, sometimes you just don’t know where to start and you just want to give up but with Whaea Power we are able to bring something positive into the world and bit by tiny bit change it.
The group of women you have brought together is a true testament to you and what a special woman you are.
Why would I continue to support this work, because I trust you and what you/we do really matters”
“I remember my parents helping out with appeals for the Women’s Refuge where I grew up. It’s always struck me as vital that people have a place where they can go and be safe. You, force of nature that you are, make sure that I have reminders to turn my good intentions into actions. I know you and your good heart and I know that whatever you ask for will be going precisely where it is needed most.”
“What is it that drew you in?
I suppose it was my connection with you as a friend, seeing your passion and compassion.
Why are you an Aunty?
Because I can be. I can help when I can, and I don’t feel anybody is judging me when I can’t.
Why do you continue to support this work?
It’s such a worthwhile cause, and there is the ‘there but for the grace of God’ factor.
Plus there isn’t enough support from this nasty horrible (I-hate-John-Key) government.
What’s in it for you?
Being able to help is its own reward, I do get warm fuzzies hearing that X loved her jeans/shoes/t-shirt whatever…but also I don’t need to hear that, it’s enough just to help.”
‘I grew up egalitarian. We worked together as a large family, we would gather at the farm to help with shearing, docking and hay making. My grandmother had a huge garden and grandad would kill sheep. Since then NZ has moved more towards greed and selfishness. I felt like I wanted to do something to help less fortunate people. I earn good money so why not. At that time I saw your posts and decided that’s what I want to get behind. So I did. For this basic of human instincts and desire to help others succeed. Because we all get richer when everyone is healthy. I stay because I care about the kaupapa. It takes a village to raise a child, and we are a big virtual village. Ko koe te rangatira.”