Shama Ethnic Women’s Trust, which was established in 2002, is a community hub for ethic families in and around Hamilton. It provides social services and an education programme for those living in the region, as well as a national resource for women who have experienced sexual violence and an education programme for mainstream providers. In the coming months Shama plans to roll out a second programme to some regions, this time on crosscultural parenting.

Their life skills programme for women living locally includes 2-3-hour sessions on sewing, English (facilitated by English Language Partners), English language support, computer support, cooking and conversation, and vegetable gardening.

Maria (Maki) Rodriquez, the manager at Shama, says that women of all ages and from all continents come to the classes. Often the main reason is to be with other women:

“Many of the women know how to sew, or cook, but the programme provides them with the opportunity to get to know other women and make friends. For women, connection is so important. When they come, they feel more confident, more connected and that helps to avoid isolation and depression and maintain their mental health. Feeling that they belong makes a big difference. We can see that in participants.”

A new programme, SuperSHEro, provides tools and techniques for women to boost their confidence. This free course is, says Maria, “for women to remember just how amazing we are and to learn techniques for us to release our female SuperSHEro.”

The sessions run from 10:30 until 3:00 pm and include lunch and a guest speaker. Jennifer Wit, who is the facilitator, says that the women who come are from all walks of life and with difference experiences. They are mostly ethnic women, but there were Māori and Pasifika too. The first sessions have covered self-esteem and self-worth: The feedback is generally very positive, with most women saying that they are going away to practice some of the tools that they have learned.

As well as these personal development programmes Shama helps women to find work by referring women to agencies where they can get help to write a cv or learn about job opportunities.

And last year Zola Rose ran an eight-month programme supporting ethnic women to create and grow a micro enterprise business. It was run in collaboration with the Women’s Entrepreneurship Centre in Auckland.

Then there are parenting tools. Many refugees and migrants come from cultures where parenting may be quite different from the way we parent in Aotearoa.

Zola Rose who runs the cross-cultural parenting programme says that the classes that she has been developing and running, in collaboration with the Red Cross (which send different groups for training), help people to decide both what they want to retain from their own culture and what new parenting skills they will embrace.

“The programme has two parts. The first establishes their own reality – how they were parented, the things about their parenting that they want to keep, and what they want to leave behind. The second part is about positive discipline, and what is allowed in New Zealand – as well as children’s rights.

“I also talk about what parents need to do to feel grounded enough to parent well, so I include things like mindfulness and self-care.

“This is a five-hour session (with a break for lunch) with follow up sessions on parenting for children under 12, and those who are older.

“We’ve had really great feedback, not just on the day, but from Red Cross. They have asked for more courses.

“I think this cross-cultural approach helps our people feel seen, heard and understood. They also are often excited to learn new things. The Congolese group, for example, was excited to learn about other ways of managing their children, which do not involve physical punishment. And the use of appreciation and positive praise was new to the Afghani group. That was a big learning for them.”

Shama is about to roll out this cross-cultural parenting programme out nationally, partnering with providers in three areas of high refugee and migrant settlement.

This will be the second service that Shama has extended to other regions. Sexual violence education and services is the other.

Traditionally sexual violence has not been addressed in ethnic minority communities so finding ways to make the topic part of the conversation throughout the country and ensure that those affected can get help has become an important part of Shama’s work.

All the Hamilton region programmes, including English language, provide participants with information about the laws and services around domestic violence.

And in addition, Shama runs legal and domestic violence education when the Ministry of Justice refers a woman with a protection order.

It also coordinates a national response for sexual harm and provides a resource, Let’s Talk, which is a series of nine videos with women talking about sexual violence in 13 different languages.

Shama plans to develop more videos in more than 20 different languages.

The videos include referral information, legal information and examples developed from practice and knowledge of sexual violence in culturally specific situations.

“We know too that hearing a message or watching a video in your first language has a different connection in your brain,” says Maki. “First language messages are more effective. This is even more true in a country where sometimes people do not hear their first language very often.”

Shama also provides support to mainstream organisations dealing with sexual harm or sexual violence, either through training sessions and cross cultural advice, or through offering an alternative process for those seeking help so that conversations, skills and knowledge can be discussion within their cultural contexts.

With such visibility within the refugee and migrant community Shama is also playing an important role in terms of providing information about the pandemic, answering frequently answered questions for example from Muslim communities wanting to understand how lockdowns and restrictions affect Ramadan and other cultural and religious practices.