The Taeaomanino Trust is a Porirua-based Pacific social service and health provider.

In 2016 the Trust decided that they needed to find a way of engaging hard to reach people who had been in trouble with the law because of domestic violence. So, in partnership with Department of Corrections Community Probation, they put together a programme designed to help offenders Restore their mana, Empower themselves by gaining tools for change, and Defend their families and their mana. The RED programme.

Now the 5-week programme, with financial support from MSD, runs twice a year, attracting 30-40 people who have been in prison or who are on probation.

On a Tuesday morning the participants arrive at a community hall in Porirua East by van: the course is part of their community service. There are men as well as women. The team from the Trust has been there for a while, preparing the venue and getting ready for a warm welcome.

Thomas Isaako, the Team Manager Counselling & Addiction Services at the Trust, describes the programme:

“Pasifika culture plays a huge part from the start. We always begin with a tatalo (prayer) and then we spend 10 to 15 minutes on culturally appropriate icebreakers, so by the time we introduce our first speaker everyone is relaxed and in a learning state of mind. It also sets the tone for how each person will behave towards each other. Respect is an important element for RED goals. The importance of this front-end ground setting cannot be underestimated.

“We use the circle-seating arrangement because it encourages face-to-face, eyeto-eye engagement, and offers a more inclusive approach. The icebreaker activities also give us an opportunity to recall important lessons from previous sessions. This helps new participants to understand the space they have walked into. We use this quote: ‘When you are in the room, this is your whare, this is your fale, this is your home for the next two hours.’

“Over the weeks guest speakers come from a variety of organisations including the It’s Not Okay Campaign, Te Roopu Awhina, Atamu Services and the NZ Police. All of the speakers have personal experience with family violence. That’s important for our people. Having a programme run by our staff talking about violence or group therapy doesn’t work for them, but when they hear real experiences from real people, the barrier comes down and they begin listening. They resonate with the stories that are told.

We say, no one can change your life but yourself. The choice is yours.

“For example, we recently had a female guest speaker who recalled her childhood and upbringing, all her unsafe experiences as a kid. She related her experience as a victim of child abuse, violence and addictions, and how she turned her life around. The female participants could relate to her story, it resonated with them on a deep and personal level. We emphasise that change can happen. It’s also really important that we have a strong woman’s voice – someone who can say how it is to have their power taken away from them through domestic violence.

“There is resistance from some to begin with. Each person is coming in with varying degree of exposure to violence and harm.

“When the guest speaker has finished their story, we have time for questions, which is where the session truly becomes interactive. People share how they feel and talk about ways of making changes, coping strategies to manage anger and regulate emotions, looking at the development of empathy, becoming more self-aware. Four to five of our staff or probation officers attend, and they help to answer questions where they can. They also identify people who might need individual help. We have already referred over 10 people to individual counselling, while other participants refer themselves.

“The counsellors are not there to ‘fix’ things. They walk alongside participants and plant seeds for change. The engagement and change are on the participant’s terms.

“The whole process is about helping people rebuild themselves: Restoring their mana and dignity.

“The tools that we provide are designed to empower them. We say, no one can change your life but yourself. The choice is yours. You can bring back your self-control. You may have to remove yourself from bad influences. If the will is strong enough, you can do anything.

“We tell them, they need to not only defend themselves, they need to defend their families. Some of them have hurt their families due to various reasons, but one thing never changes – the effect this destructive behaviour has on individual families. When participants listen to real experiences from real victims of domestic violence, they are further pushed to realise the negative impact it has on the quality of their relationships; they see how their actions are possibly affecting their spouses, children, parents and others. This type of ‘real talk’ is a major contributor to help domestic violence perpetrators come to a self-lead conclusion, which in the cases of many, has driven them to make changes and therefore restore their familial relationships to a better state.

“We have people attending consistently, and that is a measure of our success. The Probation Service says that on the day we hold the session, the number of people doing community work increases. They are motivated to attend. Probation also says that in the days after a session, participants discuss what they have learned – they talk about what was good and not so good about the session, they provide constructive feedback to us. This communication helps with our planning process and ensures that the sessions are as impactful as possible.

“While the programme was originally tied to family violence it has now grown to cover other issues like addictions and problem gambling – social issues. These people often get caught up in family violence.

“Helping people make life changes in just five weeks is a difficult thing to achieve so we rely on the follow-up that we do after each session – finding out what is going on for each person and letting them know that we are there to provide continuous support. We aim to provide wrap-around support and follow-up to maintain the positive changes that people are making. That might include other issues, like helping the homeless get housed or getting people into a rehabilitation programme.

“Our RED programme is our contribution to the White Ribbon month. But for us it is an ongoing programme that plants the seeds of positive change and provides the support that helps to sustain those changes.”