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In response to the needs of young Pacific people concerned about family violence, the Auckland Pacific Island Women’s Refuge, the only Pacific Island Women’s Refuge in the country, has organised a Youth Development Programme.

Ani Vahua is the Refuge Project Coordinator: “Four years ago, conversations with the children coming with their mothers to our refuge got the workers here thinking. Some of the older children were asking for help, and we were having similar conversations when we did home visits or met with young people in the community or at church gatherings. The issue as they see it is that they are living within the traditional communication practices and acceptance of violence in family relationships. They see that this is not consistent with what they are observing elsewhere, where there are cultural differences and laws that prohibit family violence. They want to stop the cycle of family violence.

“We were not aware of any services for youth by youth that would provide our young people with the help they needed, so we decided that we would like to bring together a group of young people, aged between 12-24, to organise a programme.

“As we didn’t have the resources to run the programme, we applied to ACE Aotearoa for a Professional Development Grant. We had two broad goals: to help young Pasifika people to develop healthy relationships and help them work on their career pathway, and, in return, have the young people who benefit from the programme providing much needed practical help for the refuge. Whilst the target was youth, we can see these young people as interconnected and influential leaders emerging in the family. They then have the potential to support their mothers, or grandmothers or aunties – as well as planning their own life and educational journeys.”

The application was successful, and a group of 16 young people was established. Most were young people who had been in the refuge with their mothers. A few were the children of refuge staff or friends from the community. The young people suggested topics and a process for an education plan and various agencies partnered to provide weekly or fortnightly sessions on: healthy relationships with family and community; family violence; mental health for families and young adults; alcohol and drugs; life skills and confidence building; youth aspirations and self-esteem; goal setting; youth and parents; and self-defence. There was the opportunity to get a driver licence, and one went on to pass a forklift licence.

The young people also decided that they wanted to know more about their own and different Pacific cultures, so there were sessions and visits that provided this education, too. “They need to know who they are, first and foremost,” says Ani “We have now introduced language and culture classes here for our staff too.”

Throughout the process the young people were able to go on short trips, to help consolidate the group, and provide opportunities for informal discussion.

All of them developed a sense of direction and nine found employment, either part time or fulltime. Those who were still at college were, says Ani, very ambitious to succeed in their education.

Whilst the target was youth, we can see these young people as interconnected and influential leaders emerging in the family.

And while they were working on their own development, all helped at the refuge, something they continue to do. “They help our families by bringing them to the safe house, moving those families who are leaving the refuge, providing child care help (with their mother’s approval), helping with cleaning the refuge premises – both inside and out and attending meetings with staff. They are also providing cultural entertainment for family events like weddings and refuge functions. So many good deeds for our community.

“These young people are already leaders. They have done really well at the workshops we provided. You can see that they now have much more confidence in themselves.

“As a team we have all grown our healthy relationships. We will strive to do more for our youth’s growth, knowledge and development. It has been a wonderful but different experience from the services that refuge normally delivers.”