Change Starts with Us: Creating a Safe Space for Our Children


See more of Lee and Naoia's story

Last month, Aviva celebrated the one-year anniversary of SEUGA: a programme aimed at restoring the wellbeing of Pasifika men in our community by addressing issues of violence, addiction and anger. 

Lee came to SEUGA following a racial confrontation at work. His wife Naoia tells us about the difference it’s made to their aiga (family). These are her words. 

I was born and raised in Christchurch. My father is from Satuiatua in Savaii Samoa and my mother was born in Wellington after her mother migrated here from Tanugamanono in Apia Samoa. I was raised in a loving, busy family, with two brothers and three sisters. I married the sweetest guy and we’ve been married fourteen years. Two and a half years ago we adopted our first baby, a girl called Havilah-Harper from Samoa. Six months later we fell pregnant with our miracle son Jireh-Lee who is now one.

[Prior to SEUGA], I think the biggest challenge for us was making sure that we were ok for our kids. We had been taking shifts at the hospital with our son, who has chronic bronchiolitis, and Lee was the only one working. Financially he felt a lot of pressure being the sole provider whilst he had other stuff at work going on and lots of sleepless nights. 

Lee has always been a quiet person, so when the situation happened at work, I felt like it was even harder for him to talk about his feelings. As hard as it was for me to not get angry and upset at him, I knew that wasn't going to help the situation. Our story isn’t about violence, but violence prevention and how to deal with racial displacement.

I heard about SEUGA from a friend. I thought it would be good for Lee as it involved speaking in Samoan, which he’s often more comfortable with. I knew he would be able to talk freely without any condemnation or judgement and be able to learn from others going through the same thing. 

Week by week, Lee started to open up about how he was feeling and remind me that in order for him to speak up, I needed to listen without interrupting. I used to think that I knew a solution to everything when it came to dealing with feelings. I soon found out that what works for others doesn't work for all.

Things are better now because instead of getting upset at the small things, or frustrated over who did what, we can try to look at the positive of things, acknowledge that, yes, there’s a problem and figure it out together. 

I think the biggest impact has been teaching our children how to better manage their emotions. Right now, our two-year-old is going through a lot of emotions and rather than get upset and angry at her when she has her “moments”, we are parenting together in a safe space for her so she knows it's okay to feel frustrated and upset, and that she can have all these feelings around Mum and Dad. 

I didn’t want our kids to grow up thinking that when you get angry or frustrated, the way to deal with it is through hitting or threatening someone. I've seen a lot within families where children were being physically, mentally and verbally abused. It frustrates me when I hear people yell at children and say words like, “E ke valea? E ke maga’o e fasi oe?” (“Are you stupid? Do you want a hiding?”) How is that showing love? How is this creating a safe space for our kids if they are being shouted at for making a mistake?

This is where change needs to happen. If we don't learn and understand the consequences of our actions, it can lead to all sorts of places like mental health, suicide, courts and even prison. Sometimes people think there’s no way out, but there’s always hope. It just takes small changes. I wanted Lee to be that great role model for our children and realise it only takes one moment. Had he acted differently [at work] the situation could have been much worse. If we prevent getting to a point of destruction, it’s better than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Never be afraid to break free from what was the normal way of doing things out of respect for elders or culture. It's hard to change learned behaviour, but if we want to see change in the next generation, change starts with us.