It’s been a tough year. That’s an understatement. Perhaps what I should say is it’s been a tough year for everyone, but nobody else has suffered as much as people who were already under resourced, struggling with where to live and how to eat.
Some of the women in our Aunties whānau have faced huge challenges this year. Lockdown, for some of them, was enjoyable. Spending time with their kids was much treasured. But the reality is that when kids are at home all day every day they have to eat. And as it is, the women are trying to eke everything out, and holidays and lockdown pose really big issues for them, especially with food and all the other bills.
To that end, we began giving each of the 27 women a $350 pak n save voucher each month. It has always been clear that asking when they needed a shop done for them, and sending me a shopping list, was not only really hard for them, but also harmful. We had been talking about this, me and the women, for a while, and finally, when we stopped the vegetable boxes – because of feedback from the women that the quality wasn’t very good – we finally bit the bullet. The logistics were something I worried about a lot in terms of distributing the cards but Kylie took it on and so it was able to happen. Thank you darling for stepping up when you did.
This has also been a huge year of growth for us as a whānau, and for the women themselves.
Many of the women have finally started on their therapeutic road to healing, that’s been a big deal, and a bit of a struggle to get everyone there! We were waiting for a long time on the lists of one counselling org so I have made connections with a couple of others, and most of the women will be in counselling from next year. Yellow are paying for mine and Phil’s, and the women’s is largely covered by ACC. Thank you to Sahaayta, and Takanini Villa for your skill and care. And many thanks to Sheneen who keeps me on the straight and narrow, reflects my work back to me, and has helped me through some sticky stuff.
They also started having whānau hui this year, every couple of months, when COVID allowed, and run by Moeroa and Kiri. They have them without me, or Phil, so they can speak freely. From these meetings, they have stipulated their needs, and it’s helpful for everyone to see where everyone is at, and what their plans are for the future, since a group of them are keen to run this one day when I’m not here anymore. It’s been a bit of a struggle to convince them they’re worthy of being on the board, and to tee that up, but I think we’re getting there.
They say that they love the peer support and that they inspire each other to do better!
At the beginning of this year, our book , Hersay, got under way. Sonia Yoshioka Braid, who just happens to be one of my dearest friends, and an excellent editor, was brought on board to interview the women. We had had a couple of false starts with other authors, but in February this year, she started to interview 16 women (including me) and we told her our stories. Penguin’s editors and Sonia worked together and it was all a bit of a rush, because publication was due to be in June. But COVID. So our launch date is now March 8 next year, and it will be a hugely busy year for me and some of our whānau as we do media for the book, and attend writers festivals all around Aōtearoa NZ. It’s a hugely important book, and I believe will be used as a resource for many years to come. It’s raw, and powerful, and ultimately hopeful. You can preorder it HERE. Many thanks to Jeremy for believing in us so strongly, and to Margaret for carrying the torch. And thanks to Sonia who sat for hours listening to the women, talking about some pretty dark stuff with them, and who ensured their narrative remained their narrative. Untidy, raw and direct. It’s what I have always dreamed of and I cannot be more grateful that it has finally come to fruition.
Yellow NZ have been a big part of our lives this year, particularly the lovely Tracey, Nicole, and Sally. They came onboard at the start of the year, and asked me what they could do to help. I gave them a HUGE list (which keeps on growing, to be honest). They started by providing us with $14,000 so that we could supply the whānau women with fruit and veggie boxes during lockdown. Heroes! We kept that going after that money had run out because the women enjoyed it so much. They’ve also paid for our end of year trip to Rainbow’s End, for professional supervision for Phil and I, for a photographer to take family portraits of all the women and their kids, for Safelets – you can see the video here.
They are also paying for a corporate print of 1500 of our book to be distributed free in the community. They are committed to their relationship with us, and I cannot thank them enough for their love and care of the women. Particularly for offering a safe space to the women for them to speak – Kylie and I did a discussion around DV with their staff and it was to them that she told her story for the very first time in public.
We started the first of our outings as a whānau this year, too. Although I’ve been doing this for eight years, and working with separate women in my capacity as fulltime Aunty in Charge for around four years, it’s only last May that we shouted the women I worked closest with to a lunch at a flash hotel – thank you Women’s Fund! The women all decided they liked being together, and that’s how they became what they themselves call The Aunties Whānau. Many thanks to Phil for being the person who organises trips, and co-ordinates with whoever needs to be coordinated with to make things happen! We have had hugely enjoyable whānau days that have really cemented the women’s relationships with each other.
As you can tell, 2020 was a big year for us and 2021 promises to be HUGE. So much growth has happened and so much more to come. It’s all very exciting.
So to thanks, then!
Many thanks, in no particular order, except the first two, to:
Phil – you are just such a diamond. I know this is all a really steep learning curve. I run pretty fast, and often don’t give you time to process things, but you do keep up, most of the time! You play to your strengths and organise the hell out of us all, which we very sorely need! I know I’ve changed the rules on you a few times, but you change tack as needed, after taking a breath. I’m a pain in the arse, but what can you do.
Kiri. You are right hand person, adviser, liaison, and a safe place for the women to land their worries when they don’t want to bother me. Thank you for trusting me in your life, and thanks for your friendship. I know it’s a rare privilege to call you friend and I appreciate that honour. THUG LYFE.
Jeremy, Margaret, Bex, Laura, and Rachel from Penguin for shepherding us through the book writing and publishing process with love, care, and humility.
Rebecca for being our kickarse sharky family lawyer who gets protection orders through lickety split and is the most compassionate taker of affadavits ever.
Tracey, Nicole and Sally from Yellow for believing in all of this, and getting so firmly onboard.
The Aunties Army for taking my emails at a very terrible time for all of us here in Aōtearoa NZ, and doing shopping for the women when it was impossible to get a bloody spot for online shopping. And who very kindly stepped in, when we were locked down, to make sure the women’s kids had Easter Eggs this year.
Neisha, Janet, and Sonia from Kainga Ora for their willingness to see me and talk about housing and how they could help us with a couple of sticky situations.
Khirti and Kamal from Paradise Mobile Solutions in Manurewa who fix the women’s devices at very reasonable prices.
The Aunties who took on the whānau Xmas – who were given VERY specific instructions and followed them to the tee. I am enormously careful who I allow around the women, and they were absolutely blown away by how wonderful you all were. We’ll see you again this xmas….
My other family, Te Whānau Rangimariē, who have taken me into their organisation and embraced me. In particular, Āneta who is one of my peer mentors, Annetta for taking my calls at all times of day and night when refuge is needed for people who have self referred to me for safety, Patience who is the best team player ever, and Nanny Hine who teaches me about grace and righteous anger whenever I see her.
Karolynne and Di, and Mac who kept storage running smoothly this year and Joyce who took over and keeps us all in line, we storage queens.
The Board – Moeroa, Paul, Sally, Jackson, Julie, Hilary and Phil – who keep this whole ship afloat, supporting me beautifully in my work and enabling me to ignore all the admin-y bits which I leave in their capable hands. Our accounts are flawless, our accountabilities are impeccable and quite frankly if I were running this side of things, we’d be in deep doo-doo, what with my terrible memory and general impatience with bureaucracy.
Everyone who donates stuff – who drops stuff to Karo or Phil or Joyce. Who drops direct to women who need furniture or large appliances. Without you, we would have nothing. I want you to know how deeply appreciated you all are. We get very little rubbishy stuff, which lets me know you’re really listening, and your donations go to over 600 families a year who need clothes, towels, bedding and any number of other things.
To all our financial donors, I doff my hat and place my hand on my heart with extreme gratitude and humility. Every year, we get more and more money from you. This last financial year I believe it was around $300, 000. Some of you pay my salary, and some of you choose to donate generally, and either way we are grateful to you. It’s a funny model I run, one that’s fairly unique. Basically we are a trust and the women are the beneficiaries of that trust. We don’t apply for many grants, we don’t get any funding, and your goodwill and trust in us, and in me, means so much. This year you have enabled us to provide: food, clothes, televisions, phones, shoes, drivers licences, IDs, a car for Kiri, pet fish and the attendant accessories….oh I don’t know, people always ask me what the most unusual requests are and I can never answer. Whatever the women indicate they need, that’s what they get. And that wouldn’t happen without you. Whether you’re a subscriber with an AP, or someone who responds to my call out for funds, your contributions are what enables this whole thing. I won’t single anyone out but there are a few of you that are stalwarts and I am very very grateful to YOU.
The 15 women who trusted Sonia and me and shared your stories that they might speak to and help other women. You are fierce in your courage and I cannot thank you enough for shouting your truth. This year, some of you have chosen to speak those truths to a wider audience, in person, at book festivals and I will be beside you all the way.
And finally to the women of this whānau. This strange family we’ve built ourselves in the last 18 months.
Julie, Lana, Moe, Donna, Toni, Martha, Oketi, Bev, Dianne, Connie, Tina, Noreen, Karolynne, Lisa 1, Dallis, Dotti, Rox, Fili, Kylie, Kiri, Linda, Tanya, Joyce, Lisa 2, Kim, Hinemoa, and Annette.
I am incredibly honoured that you choose to be in this whānau. That you trust us to do right by you, that you are invested enough in all of this that some of you want to take over the reins, that you get my kaupapa. Thank you for trusting me, and each other. Thank you for being my partners in this endeavour. You are the reason this all exists. Without you, there would be nothing. So many women every year – 600 to be exact or more – who I never meet, feel safe enough to contact me and ask advice and seek emotional support. And all because you have taught me, and teach me, how to walk in this space and you tell me what I need to know to do my job not just well, but most excellently. Tuakana tēina, right? You call me out if something’s not quite right, and you keep me accountable. You are my everything. I love who you are, I love seeing your light, I love being there to witness you reclaiming your mana wāhine. We really are all in this together.
With much love and thanks to all of you.
The Aunty In Charge