Mother of Divine Mercy Women’s Refuge helps victims of family violence get away from harm and to begin the process of healing through a ‘whole family’ approach. Susana Fiu Fetalai shares her story and how it motivated her work in family violence.
When Susana Fiu Fetalai walks into a room, she fills it with her warmth. Her experience and compassion prompted her to establish Mother of Divine Mercy Women’s Refuge more than 20 years ago.
Once upon a time, the great, great grandmother would sleep with her children on shop corners to avoid an abusive husband.
“When my husband went to work, I’d find a hollowed-out tree and I’d prepare it knowing what was going to come when he came back home,” Susana recalls.
She says she did that for 20 years before eventually going to a refuge to get the help she and her children needed. The experience ignited a passion to help others.
“I thank God that I’ve got that experience and can give back. I know it’s helping our mothers, community and children.”
Mother of Divine Mercy is one of two Pacific women’s refuges, and offers frontline services including safe haven accommodation, tailored programmes for mothers’ wellbeing and youth, training volunteers and post-refuge support.
Susana’s daughter, Agnes Tuitama-Faifua, is a support worker.
She says “we’re an independent refuge, but we network a lot with other faith-based and Pasifika networks. We have a lot of in-house programmes and workshops around preventing violence”.
The refuge takes a ‘whole family approach’ providing counselling for victims and perpetrators to deal with violence.
Susana says it’s about learning to talk and being honest in confronting the issues causing violence. It’s often a product of so-called traditional methods of parenting passed down through generations which focus more on obedience than communication.
Mother of Divine Mercy Youth was set up to engage youth affected by family violence. 21-year-old youth support worker Sialaoa (Sia) Lambert, says many youth raised in violent homes were turning to drugs and alcohol and joining gangs.
As a victim of abuse, Sia is grateful, the refuge helped get her mum and her siblings out of her mother’s cycle of always returning to their abusive step-father.
The refuge provided them with counselling and other programmes which have helped them to move on and heal. It has also allowed her to help others in similar situations.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been through emotional, physical and sexual abuse, because I can help somebody else who is going through it. Yeah, it has been scarring, but if you continue to focus on the negative, you’ll never get to the positive,” she says.
“I’ve been able to heal properly and a big part of that is forgiveness within the family- not only forgiving your mum for letting you go through that, or forgiving your stepdad for abusing you, but forgiving yourself, especially, for still hurting.”
This gap in representing and responding to youth needs, identified in her own service by Susana, is an ongoing issue that requires more attention.
However Agnes, and Sia, say that MSD and Pasefika Proud are headed in the right direction in order to mitigate this issue as well as address the wider issue of family violence.
Agnes says the idea of ’collaboraction’ (collaborating while taking action) is the best way forward.
“That’s definitely what it comes down to; the more we [providers and the government] work together, the stronger we are.”
Mother of Divine Mercy hopes the government and other providers take this collaboraction approach, with government working with Pacific and Pacific working with each other as they have done in reaching out to youth and to other service providers and churches.
The Pasefika Proud Campaign addresses violence in Pacific families by using clear, consistent messaging around building strong families, preventing and addressing violence designed, delivered and led by Pacific peoples. For more information go to the Pasefika Proud website.